$435 Million: Devin Nunes Makes Good on Threat to Sue CNN
On November 22, CNN published a major story detailing allegations made by Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani. Parnas, who is facing a variety of federal charges relating to campaign finance fraud, told the network (through his lawyer, Joseph Bondy) that he was willing to tell Congress than House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-CA) traveled to Vienna last year to meet with former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin. The idea was that Nunes was involved in the Giuliani-led effort to “dig up dirt” on former Vice President Joe Biden, who was the Obama official who demanded that Ukraine fire Shokin in 2016.
Nunes’s reaction to the story was swift; he said the story was “demonstrably false” and he vowed to file a lawsuit against CNN for publishing lies. This week, he made good on that threat with a $435 million defamation lawsuit against the network.
Even before Nunes denied the allegations, the CNN story was dubious on its face. Parnas is aggrieved by President Trump’s statement that he hardly knew the man. Through his lawyer, he has already pledged to make himself available to House Democrats, should they want to use his testimony to build their case for impeachment. This is a man facing significant prison time, so any news organization worth its salt has to take his claims with a very heavy grain of salt. CNN, of course, is not such an organization.
In the lawsuit, Nunes and his lawyers address the components of defamation. Parnas said that Nunes traveled to Vienna in December 2018 to meet with Shokin. While Nunes was traveling in Europe at the date in question (as documented by CNN), the California congressman says that he flew to Libya and Malta – NOT to Vienna. With photo evidence, the lawsuit states that Nunes met with Gen. Khalifa Haftar in Libya and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in Malta to discuss security issues and participate “in a repatriation ceremony for the remains of an American World War II soldier missing in Action.”
“Nunes was not in Vienna in December 2018,” the lawsuit says specifically. “Further, he has never met Shokin; never spoken to Shokin; and never communicated with Shokin. At no time during his visits to Libya or Malta did he or his staff ever meet any Ukrainians or have any discussions with anyone about the Bidens.”
Nunes’s lawyers argue that CNN should have been aware that they could not rely on the word of Parnas, an untrustworthy source by definition.
“From all the evidence in its possession, CNN was well-aware that Parnas was a renowned liar, a fraudster, a hustler, an opportunist with delusions of grandeur, a man in financial extremis laboring under the weight of a $500,000 civil judgment, and an indicted criminal defendant with a clear motive to lie,” the lawsuit states.
CNN will have room to maneuver in this case, of course, by claiming they were doing nothing more or less than reporting what Parnas and his lawyers were saying. And, because news organizations enjoy robust First Amendment protections, they will likely succeed in this lawsuit because they were careful to provide attribution throughout the story.
Still, as a public statement about CNN’s lack of credibility and their willingness to pass along unverified nonsense if it gives them an excuse to bash President Trump’s defenders, this lawsuit has already done its job.