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Devin Nunes sues CNN for $435 million, alleging it published a 'false hit piece'

Congressman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., before a hearing in March, 2017.

JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

By DEANNA PAUL | The Washington Post | Published: December 3, 2019

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., filed a lawsuit against CNN on Tuesday, seeking $435,350,000 in damages and claiming the outlet defamed him last month when it published a "demonstrably false hit piece."

The Nov. 22 story reported that in December 2018, while serving as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Nunes traveled to Vienna and met with former Ukrainian prosecutor general Victor Shokin to discuss digging up dirt on Joe Biden — which Nunes' complaint says is untrue.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleged violations of Virginia's law against insults and said CNN reporter Vicky Ward, who wrote the article, and anchor Chris Cuomo, who discussed its details on air, conspired with the network "to boost CNN's ratings and further the House Democrats' impeachment 'inquiry.'"

"In promoting fake news about secret meetings in Vienna with a corrupt former Ukraine prosecutor, CNN pandered to lurid curiosity," the complaint said. "CNN is the mother of fake news. It is the least trusted name. CNN is eroding the fabric of America, proselytizing, sowing distrust and disharmony. It must be held accountable."

Before publishing the story, CNN asked Nunes to comment on the article, but he declined repeated requests, according to the article.

The story relied on an account from Lev Parnas, a now-indicted business associate of Rudy Giuliani, relayed to CNN by his attorney, Joseph Bondy. Bondy has also said his client would be willing to tell Congress he learned from Shokin directly that he and Nunes met in Vienna last year.

Nunes' 47-page complaint accused Parnas of manufacturing a narrative he hoped would help him negotiate a deal with federal prosecutors or obtain immunity from Congress, and it argued that it was "obvious to everyone — including disgraceful CNN - that Parnas was a fraudster and a hustler."

Nunes questioned Parnas' credibility by calling him an "indicted criminal," yet quoted Igor Fruman, Parnas' co-defendant who faces the same charges, as evidence that Parnas's version of events was untrue.

"CNN harbors an institutional hatred, extreme bias, spite and ill-will toward [Nunes], the GOP and President Trump," the lawsuit claimed.

According to Nunes, CNN published the defamatory statements with two goals: to harm his reputation and "cause him to be removed from the impeachment inquiry."

As the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, Nunes was the face of Trump's defense throughout the two weeks of public hearings that preceded CNN's November article. Since then, critics have said he should have recused himself from the impeachment inquiry months ago.

A CNN spokesperson declined to comment, and Nunes' attorney did not immediately return The Post's request Tuesday.

CNN is the most recent defendant in a handful defamation suits filed by the lawmaker this year.

In March, Nunes filed a $250 million lawsuit against Twitter, claiming the platform, two parody Twitter accounts and a Republican political consultant defamed him with mean tweets. He sued the McClatchy news organization alleging defamation in August and sued Ryan Lizza and Hearst Magazines for $77 million two months later, claiming a story in Esquire about the Nunes family farm in Iowa defamed him.

Tuesday's lawsuit against CNN delivered on a threat to sue that Nunes made during an appearance on Fox News last month.

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