RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – Delivering on a promise made on Fox News last month, Republican Congressman Devin Nunes filed a defamation lawsuit Tuesday against CNN seeking nearly half a billion dollars.
The 47-page complaint, filed in Richmond, Virginia federal court, claims the news outlet broadcast false statements about Nunes made by Lev Parnas, an associate of President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
The statements link the congressman to misdeeds associated with the ongoing Trump impeachment inquiry, specifically alleging that Nunes met with Ukraine’s former prosecutor general Victor Shokin in Austria last year to get dirt on Joe Biden and his son, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy firm. Biden is seen as Trump’s likely opponent in the 2020 president election.
Nunes, represented by Charlottesville-based attorney Stephen Biss, claims CNN defamed him by publishing the Parnas statements in online stories and speaking about them on air. He seeks at least $435 million in damages.
“CNN conceived the story line in advance of any investigation and then consciously set out to publish statements that fit the preconceived story,” the complaint states. “CNN deliberately ignored source material, including Parnas’ phone records, that would have demonstrated that Parnas’ statements were absolutely false.”
Nunes claims he’s never met Shokin and cites Washington Post reporting on the subject, but says CNN published the story anyway.
“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,” the lawsuit states.
It continues, “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 CNN spokesperson declined to comment on the complaint. Requests for comment from Nunes and his lawyer, Biss, were not immediately returned Tuesday.
Biss is also representing Nunes in another defamation lawsuit against Twitter, a cow-themed parody account, his hometown newspaper The Sacramento Bee, and others in a Virginia state court.
Critics say Nunes, a California Republican, is only suing in Virginia because of the state’s weaker strategic lawsuit against public participation, or anti-SLAPP, laws, which make it more costly to fight against defamation claims.
Paul Levy, a lawyer with Public Citizen Litigation Group, said in May when Nunes sued Twitter that his group is aware of lawyers in the Richmond area “who market themselves as someone to hire to file defamation suits because they think it’s a better place to file defamation cases.”
Nunes had threatened to sue CNN in a Nov. 24 appearance on Fox News. He maintains Richmond federal court is the proper venue for the case.
“CNN engages in continuous and systematic business in Virginia. It committed multiple intentional torts and acts of defamation in whole or part in Virginia, causing plaintiff substantial injury in Virginia. CNN has minimum contacts with Virginia such that the exercise of personal jurisdiction over it comports with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice,” the complaint states.
In September, Nunes also filed a lawsuit against Hearst Magazines and reporter Ryan Lizza over an Esquire profile that was critical of the Nunes family’s dairy farm in Sibley, Iowa.
Lee Berlik, a Virginia-based defamation attorney, said he wouldn’t consider the CNN lawsuit frivolous on its face, but said “it certainly appears to have been filed primarily for political purposes.”
He pointed to Biss’ repeated claim that CNN is “fake news” as something you would not see in a more serious defamation suit. He also questioned the high dollar amount of damages requested without any explanation of how that number was calculated.
But Berlik said the claim of publishing false stories about Nunes can and should be taken seriously.
“If that allegation about CNN is true, it would indeed be a meritorious claim,” Berlik said in an email. “But Nunes will have to prove his theory with clear and convincing evidence or his claim will fail.”
Parnas was cleared Monday to speak with House lawmakers leading the impeachment inquiry. He claims to have additional details about Giuliani and other Trump associates’ efforts to unearth damaging information on Biden.
Joseph Bondy, Parnas’ attorney, reportedly said that Nunes “was definitely part of an attempt to gather information about the Bidens” and “he was definitely involved in Ukraine.”
According to documents obtained by Politico, call records exist between Parnas and Nunes. In a statement on Twitter accompanying the call records, Bondy said Nunes should have recused himself from the impeachment inquiry at the outset.