(CN) – California Representative Devin Nunes asked a federal court in Iowa Monday to award him $75 million in damages in a defamation and common law conspiracy suit against reporter Ryan Lizza and Hearst Magazines.
The House Republican and ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence claims in the suit that Lizza defamed him in a Sept. 30, 2018, article he wrote for Esquire titled “Devin Nunes’s Farm Is Hiding a Politically Explosive Secret.”
The article focuses on Lizza’s investigation into Nunes’s family’s dairy in Sibley, Iowa. In the piece, Lizza, who is now Politico’s chief Washington correspondent and an analyst for CNN, asks why the Nuneses and others would “conspire to hide the fact” that the family had sold its farm in California and moved to Iowa. The reporter also describes being followed by members of Nunes’s family and says two sources told him that the dairy – called NuStar Farms – relied partly upon undocumented labor.
Nunes, a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, refers to the article throughout his complaint as the “Lizza Hit Piece.” The congressman claims the article was an attempt to target him ahead of the 2018 Congressional election, to retaliate against him for “exposing corruption, including the DNC/Clinton campaign’s role in funding the salacious ‘Steele dossier,’” and to “interfere with his official duties as Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election.”
“The Lizza Hit Piece ascribes and imputes to Plaintiff conduct, characteristics and conditions, including dishonesty, deception, lying, conspiracy, corruption, bias, lack of integrity and ethics, that would adversely affect his fitness to be a United States Congressman and/or businessperson,” the 25-page complaint states. “The strong defamatory gist and false implication from the Lizza Hit Piece is that Plaintiff was involved in, covered-up, used his office to cover up, conspired with others to conceal, or was aware of criminal wrongdoing.”
Nunes is also suing Lizza and Hearst, which publishes Esquire, for common law conspiracy. He claims Lizza conspired with members of the media, including his girlfriend Olivia Nuzzi – who is New York Magazine’s Washington correspondent – to promote and republish the article on Twitter and elsewhere.
“In furtherance of the conspiracy and preconceived plan, Lizza engaged in a joint scheme with others the unlawful purpose of which was to injure Plaintiff’s personal and professional reputations, advance the left-wing goals of Nuzzi and Hearst, interfere with Plaintiff’s duties as a United States Congressman, and influence the outcome of the 2018 Congressional election,” the complaint states.
Nunes says Lizza’s claim that he conspired with his family, Representative Steve King, R-Iowa, and an Iowa dairy publication to “‘hide’ his family’s ‘secret’ move to Iowa is utterly unsupported by any evidence.”
“It is a malicious lie made out of whole cloth that spread like wildfire throughout mainstream media and on social media as a result of publication of the Lizza Hit Piece,” the complaint states.
Nunes does not own an interest in his family’s Iowa dairy and is not involved in its operations, according to the suit.
As to Lizza’s descriptions of being followed by Nunes’s family members, Nunes says the piece “falsely portrays” the reporter of being “stalked and intimidated.”
The congressman claims the reporter “behaved like a sex offender or pedophile cruising the local neighborhood for victims,” and “stalked [Nunes’s] grammar-school aged nieces.”
Lizza was fired from the New Yorker in 2017 for what the magazine called “improper sexual conduct” and was temporarily suspended by CNN until the network concluded an investigation and “found no reason” to keep him off the air.
Nunes is seeking $75 million in compensatory and punitive damages for “insult, pain, embarrassment, humiliation, mental suffering, anguish, and injury to his good name and professional reputation.”
Hearst and Lizza did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday night.