Judge Rules Trump Ally Devin Nunes Can Sue NBC Universal for Defamation

Devin Nunes House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes speaking at the 2018 Conserv
Gage Skidmore

A federal judge ruled on Monday that Devin Nunes, an ally of former President Donald Trump and former California congressman, can sue NBC Universal for defamation.

Devin Nunes filed a defamation lawsuit against NBC Universal in 2021 over a comment made by MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow about his alleged relationship with a Russian agent. As Breitbart News reported last year:

[Maddow claimed] Nunes received a package from a Russia-connected Ukrainian under sanctions from the United States, a man named Andriy Derkach, and inaccurately [claimed] Nunes hid this from the FBI. Specifically, Maddow plainly stated on her program: ‘He [Nunes] has refused to show the contents of the package to other members of the intelligence community. He has refused to hand it over to the FBI which is what you should do if you get something from somebody who is sanctioned by the U.S. as a Russian agent.’

These statements from Maddow are false, as previous reporting from Breitbart News, Politico, the Federalist, and other outlets makes clear. Not only did Nunes proactively provide all of this to federal law enforcement, his new lawsuit against Maddow reveals he disclosed it all in a letter to then-Attorney General Bill Barr at the time. Maddow, however, refuses to withdraw her false and inaccurate claims against Nunes. So, Nunes is suing NBCUniversal, the parent company of MSNBC, for damages and a demand for a retraction and apology. The lawsuit, the latest in a long line of them Nunes has filed against establishment media corporations for fake news they have printed against him, was filed in federal court in Texas last week. Nunes discussed this case and his broader legal strategy on Breitbart News Saturday this weekend.

The complaint filed by the Nunes legal team alleged MSNBC and Rachel Maddow knew that the package had been given to the FBI but chose to instead “inflict maximum pain and suffering” on Nunes to harm his reputation.

The 22-page decision issued by U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel argued that Maddow failed to cite any source for her claim against Nunes. Though the judge acknowledged she might have possibly known about a similar accusation in a Politico article, he ultimately ruled that “a court does not weigh competing, plausible theories of actual malice on a motion to dismiss.” Per the ruling:

The speaker did not attribute the statement to any source, including the Politico article submitted by NBCU on this motion. The CNN article shown and cited onscreen did not speak to the issue of whether Nunes refused to give the Derkach package to the FBI.

At the Rule 12(b)(6) stage, the Court cannot draw the factual inference that the speaker or others responsible for the segment had knowledge of the Politico article and based the statement on its contents. While it is plausible that the statement was made with knowledge of that article, the Complaint also describes why the statement plausibly could have been made with knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard as to the same. A court does not weigh competing, plausible theories of actual malice on a motion to dismiss.

Speaking with Breitbart News, Devin Nunes, who recently left Congress to become chief executive of the social media venture Trump Media & Technology Group, said that the lawsuit could have been avoided if MSNBC had just tried to correct the record.

“All they had to do was publicly tweet out, at the time, tweet out ‘Hey, we apologize, we got this story wrong,’ and then she should have went on the air and said ‘hey I ran a story last week or whatever and we apologize to Devin Nunes.’ Right? That’s all they had to do,” Nunes said. “But now they let it stay out there, let it stay out there and look this is the problem with this—there are people out there, millions of Americans, who believe this crap.”

The case is Nunes v NBCUniversal Media Inc, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 22-01633.


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