Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is suing CNN for defamation, claiming that the news outlet published a “demonstrably false hit piece” about an alleged trip the congressman took to Austria in 2018 to meet with an ex-Ukranian official. The California representative is requesting a combined $435,350,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.
Filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, the complaint centers on a story published by CNN in November that relied heavily on information provided by Lev Parnas, who was indicted in 2018 on campaign-finance charges, and his attorney, Joseph A. Bondy. The story investigates whether Nunes might have worked with Ukranian former prosecutor general Viktor Shokin and President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to promote claims that the Ukranians had helped the Democrats in the 2016 election. The article includes a link to travel records that show Nunes and three aides traveled to Europe in 2018, though they do not specify where in Europe.
According to the article, CNN reached out to Nunes for comment before publishing the story, but Nunes repeatedly ignored their requests.
In the defamation complaint, Nunes denies that the trip ever happened, that he had ever met with Shokin, and that he ever communicated with Parnas. Instead, he claims that the story is part of a larger conspiracy by CNN and its reporters to defame him.
“CNN coordinated publication of the false and defamatory statements about the Plaintiff across each of its platforms,” the complaint said, adding later that the company’s goal “was to inflict maximum damage to Plaintiff’s reputation worldwide and to cause him to be removed from the impeachment inquiry.”
The complaint argued that CNN acted recklessly when it published a story that relied on a source with a history of lying, and that it was “obvious to everyone – including disgraceful CNN – that Parnas was a fraudster and a hustler.”
However, as The Washington Post pointed out in their coverage of the suit, Nunes also relies on evidence provided by an “indicted criminal.”
“Nunes questioned Parnas’s credibility by calling him an ‘indicted criminal,’ yet quoted Igor Fruman, Parnas’s co-defendant who faces the same charges, as evidence that Parnas’s version of events was untrue,” wrote Washington Post reporters Deanna Paul and Hannah Knowles.
This is one of three libel complaints Rep. Nunes has filed in the past year. In March, he sued Twitter and three accounts for $250 million, claiming that they had published “abusive, hateful, and defamatory” content about him. Nunes also sued reporter Ryan Lizza and Hearst Magazines in September for $77 million, following an investigative report about his family’s farms in Iowa.
As a public official, Nunes will have to show not only that CNN published false information but that they did so intentionally or with reckless disregard for the truth.