House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against CNN for a fake news story the outlet printed about him before Thanksgiving, revealing in the lawsuit that he was never as CNN alleged in Vienna in late 2018 and did not meet with the ousted Ukrainian prosecutor CNN alleged he met with there.
Nunes’s lawsuit includes revelations of key facts that undermine the case CNN made against him, severely harming the news outlet’s credibility. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Virginia, shows Nunes is seeking more than $435 million in damages from CNN over the fake news it printed against him. But more importantly, it demonstrates that Nunes was 100 percent correct when he told Breitbart News before Thanksgiving that CNN’s story was untrue–and that CNN was completely inaccurate in its reporting and had relied on a compromised source for its piece.
It remains to be seen how successful this lawsuit will be–it is very difficult for public figures to successfully sue media outlets because of a variety of protections the media are afforded–but the facts as laid out by Nunes and his attorney in this suit are particularly damning for CNN as Nunes and his team successfully demonstrate that the network engaged in printing and then disseminating demonstrably false information about him.
Back before Thanksgiving, CNN reported what would have been a big story if it were true.
“Exclusive: Giuliani associate willing to tell Congress Nunes met with ex-Ukrainian official to get dirt on Biden” was the headline on reporter Vicky Ward’s piece.
The piece opened with these explosive allegations:
A lawyer for an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani told CNN that his client is willing to tell Congress about meetings the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee had in Vienna last year with a former Ukrainian prosecutor to discuss digging up dirt on Joe Biden.
The attorney, Joseph A. Bondy, represents Lev Parnas, the recently indicted Soviet-born American who worked with Giuliani to push claims of Democratic corruption in Ukraine. Bondy said that Parnas was told directly by the former Ukrainian official that he met last year in Vienna with Rep. Devin Nunes.
“Mr. Parnas learned from former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Victor Shokin that Nunes had met with Shokin in Vienna last December,” said Bondy.
The CNN piece followed a previous story from the Daily Beast’s Betsy Swan, which alleged that Nunes was in regular contact with Lev Parnas–the associate of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who has since been indicted on charges unrelated to the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into Trump.
As Breitbart News reported exclusively at the time, these stories were untrue. Nunes did not get into specifics on the facts with his original quote on them with Breitbart News, just stating that they were false and that he intended to sue both CNN and the Daily Beast.
“These demonstrably false and scandalous stories published by the Daily Beast and CNN are the perfect example of defamation and reckless disregard for the truth,” Nunes told Breitbart News after the publication of the CNN story. “Some political operative offered these fake stories to at least five different media outlets before finding someone irresponsible enough to publish them. I look forward to prosecuting these cases, including the media outlets, as well as the sources of their fake stories, to the fullest extent of the law. I intend to hold the Daily Beast and CNN accountable for their actions. They will find themselves in court soon after Thanksgiving.”
Some in media stuck to the CNN story, including especially CNN, arguing that Nunes had not factually debunked the fake news piece. For instance, Jon Ward of Yahoo News questioned Breitbart News’s reporting on this via Twitter, saying that Breitbart News had not offered evidence that the CNN story on Nunes was false:
Boyle writes: “It is unclear at this time how much of these reports are blatantly false, but most of each of them appear to be inaccurate, according to sources familiar with the matter.“
Boyle offers no evidence to support this claim https://t.co/8rvlo009yW
— Jon Ward (@jonward11) November 23, 2019
Others, like leftist and former Obama Department of Justice spokesman Matthew Miller, said it would be easy for Nunes to prove this story from CNN was false:
Look, Parnas is a fraudster and a hustler with little credibility. But if this isn’t true, it should be quite easy for Nunes to disprove. https://t.co/5xZWQmeVbN
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) November 23, 2019
Now that Nunes has filed his lawsuit against CNN–and one against the Daily Beast is still forthcoming–showing the story to be untrue, there is ample evidence that CNN’s piece was factually inaccurate.
On the second page of Nunes’s 47-page lawsuit against CNN, he addresses a number of the factual inaccuracies in CNN’s reporting. First, the claim that Nunes was in Vienna last year–which CNN dutifully reported on behalf of its compromised source–is untrue. Nunes was not in Vienna.
“Devin Nunes did not go to Vienna or anywhere else in Austria in 2018,” Nunes’s lawsuit states on page two. “Between November 30, 2018 and December 3, 2018, Devin Nunes visited Benghazi, Libya on official business of the House Intelligence Committee to discuss security issues with General Khalifa Haftar. Devin Nunes also traveled to Malta, where he met with U.S. and Maltese officials, including Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, and participated in repatriation ceremony for the remains of an American World War II Soldier missing in action.”
The CNN piece’s claim that Nunes met with ousted Ukrainian prosecutor Victor Shokin is also untrue. Shokin is a significant figure in that he was the prosecutor general in Ukraine that then Vice President Joe Biden pushed Ukraine to fire in exchange for U.S. taxpayer aid money, an actual quid pro quo that Biden has readily admitted on television, which has the appearance of corruption swirling around it given that Shokin’s office was investigating Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings. Burisma, at the time, was paying Biden’s son Hunter Biden more than $50,000 a month to sit on the company’s board. So, nonetheless, it would have been newsworthy had Nunes met with Shokin.
But, according to his lawsuit against CNN, this claim is also untrue: Nunes never met with Shokin.
“Devin Nunes has never met Viktor Shokin,” Nunes’s lawsuit states, also on the second page.
Nunes’s lawsuit also cites Washington Post reports that dispute CNN’s claims that he met with Shokin. The Washington Post quoted a source close to Shokin who said that Shokin doesn’t even know who Nunes is. “This meeting never took place. Viktor Shokin doesn’t know and hasn’t even heard of this person,” the source close to Shokin told the Washington Post.
Another central claim CNN made in its original story on this matter was that Nunes was in regular contact with Parnas around the time of that late 2018 official trip. This, according to Nunes’s lawsuit, is also untrue. “Devin Nunes did not communicate with Parnas in December 2018 around the time of the ‘Vienna trip’ (a trip that never happened),” the lawsuit reads.
Much of the rest of the lawsuit goes through how Parnas is an untrustworthy source and CNN should have known better than to trust him in the first place.
“On October 10, 2019, Parnas was arrested at Dulles International Airport on charges that he schemed to funnel foreign money to U.S. politicians while trying to influence U.S.-Ukraine relations. At the time of his arrest, he had a one-way ticket on a flight out of the country,” the lawsuit reads on page 11. “As a result of his arrest, Parnas’ position as a reliable source of information was compromised.”
It continues at the end of that page by noting that to be released from custody after his arrest, Parnas had to surrender his passport.
“On October 23, 2019, Parnas was released from custody on a $1,000,000 secured bond,” the lawsuit reads. “The Court required Parnas to surrender his passport; restricted his travel to Virginia and D.C. to meet with lawyers; placed him on home detention with G.P.S. monitoring; and imposed multiple other restrictions on Parnas. The Court’s complete lack of trust and confidence in Parnas, as evidenced by the bail disposition, was a matter of public record known to CNN.”
Then on page 12 it notes that Parnas began developing stories that were untrue–like this one on Nunes–about his various contacts in the political world to try to leverage them into some kind of deal with prosecutors or with House Democrats.
“Not long after his release from custody, Parnas began to concoct a plan to obstruct the impeachment inquiry and, ultimately, to obtain favorable treatment, concessions and/or immunity from criminal prosecution,” the lawsuit continues on its 12th page. “With full knowledge of press accounts of the impeachment inquiry, Parnas started to manufacture stories that he believed would assist him in obtaining a deal with the United States Attorney and/or Schiff. Parnas claimed that not long before Ukrainian President Zelensky was inaugurated on May 20, 2019, he (Parnas) journeyed to Kiev to deliver a warning to the country’s new leadership. Parnas stated that he told a representative of the incoming Ukraine government that it had to announce an investigation into President Trump’s political rival, Joe Biden, and his son, or else Vice President Mike Pence would not attend the swearing-in of the new president, and the United States would freeze aid.”
The lawsuit cites a New York Times story detailing how Parnas’s claim about Pence was “false.”
Parnas also, according to the lawsuit and press accounts, made up stories about Trump having “gave him instructions for a secret ‘James Bond mission’ to find material on Joe Biden.”
That is not what happened. In reality, they posed for a quick picture with the president–nothing else. “In truth, Parnas and Fruman, posed for a one-minute photo with the President, and walked away,” the Nunes lawsuit continues, citing Washington Times reporting debunking those Parnas claims with a quote from Giuliani saying Parnas “made it up.”
The lawsuit continues by noting that CNN knew Parnas was untrustworthy when it decided to rely on him for its now demonstrably false claims about Nunes.
“In addition to CNN’s actual knowledge (a) that Parnas had lied to the FEC (resulting in the Federal indictment and pending charges) and (b) that after his arrest, Parnas began circulating false and fantastical stories about a ‘warning’ to Ukraine’s new leadership and a ‘James Bond mission’ – stories that were demonstrably false – CNN also knew from its review of ‘court filings’ that a judgment had been entered by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York against Parnas in 2016, and that the judgment creditor had commenced proceedings in Florida in 2019 to collect the judgment,” the Nunes lawsuit says on page 13. “CNN knew from the court filings that the claim against Parnas resulted from his ‘deliberate, coercive and well-orchestrated scheme to steal $350,000 from Plaintiff by fraudulently inducing Plaintiff to enter into the Loan.’”
The lawsuit continues by laying out how, as it did in the earlier part, the CNN report from Ward was untrue in that Nunes never went to Vienna in late 2018 and he has never met with Shokin.
But then, later in the suit, it details how Ward–the CNN reporter on the byline of the fake story–is not the only person who engaged in spreading this misinformation. Anchor Chis Cuomo, who hosts CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time on weeknights, also engaged in pushing the fake news.
“On November 22, 2019 at 9:00 p.m., at the same time CNN published the CNN Article on its digital network, Ward appeared on Cuomo’s television program ‘Cuomo Prime Time,’” the lawsuit continues on page 22. “During the broadcast, Cuomo and Ward vouched for the story as if it were fact, doubled-down, and published further defamatory statements about Plaintiff [Nunes].”
The lawsuit points to a segment with Ward and Cuomo where they affirm the claims from Parnas and Parnas’s attorney as true–even though they are demonstrably false–and then also to a segment where disgraced former Democrat Congresswoman Katie Hill joined Cuomo to discuss the matter further and both affirmed the now demonstrably inaccurate report as true.
“CNN coordinated publication of the false and defamatory statements about Plaintiff across each of its platforms,” Nunes’s lawsuit continues on page 25. “CNN published the CNN Article to multiple new target audiences, including CNN’s 32,000,000+ Facebook followers and CNN’s 56,000,000+ Twitter followers in Virginia and around the World.”
It is hard to see how CNN will stand by this story in response to this lawsuit, but for now the network has not yet responded to Nunes’s filing of the lawsuit. Nunes also told Breitbart News that he is demanding that every other media outlet who reprinted the fake news retract their pieces on it as well.
“I’m also demanding the immediate retraction of re-reporting of the false story and the deletion of any links to it by media outlets such as Raw Story, Daily Kos, Vox, The Week, Newsweek, Mother Jones, HuffPost, Vanity Fair, Salon, Washington Monthly, Esquire, Talking Points Memo, and Mediaite,” Nunes said.