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US Senate candidate Evan McMullin sues conservative super PAC for defamation

The independent candidate accuses the super PAC of splicing together old audio fragments to make it appear he called all Republicans racists.

(CN) — Evan McMullin, an independent challenging Republican incumbent U.S. Senator Mike Lee of Utah, claims a conservative super PAC defamed him with an advertisement that he says distorted old footage and audio to make it appear as if he accused all Republicans of being bigots and racists.

"Mr. McMullin does not hold to the sentiment wrongfully put in his mouth by defendants and did not ever express that view," McMullin says in his complaint filed Tuesday in Salt Lake City. "Yet, defendants’ doctored ad continues to saturate the Utah television market, distorting his position and damaging him politically, professionally, and personally."

Club for Growth Action, the Washington-based super PAC, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

The advertisement. launched Sept. 29, uses video of Mr. McMullin’s face and doctored audio of his voice, according to the complaint, in which he is portrayed as making the statement that “The Republican base is racist. These bigots!” The audio, according to the complaint, has been doctored to give the false impression to viewers that McMullin has condemned the broad base of the Republican Party as racist.

The TV ad also features three women discussing their impressions of McMullin, as if commenting on the statement he purportedly made, with one of them grimacing and saying, “What Evan McMullin says — that doesn’t feel kind. He’s derogatory toward a huge group of people,” according to the complaint.

McMullin claims the audio for the ad was spliced together from a 2017 news segment in which McMullin commented on the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a counter-protester was killed. According to the complaint, McMullin said at the time that "not all Republicans of course are racist, but there is an element of the Republican base that is racist," and that the party's leaders are afraid to stand up to them because they may lose votes if they do.

McMullin, a former CIA officer and a former Republican who left the party in 2016 after Donald Trump became the presumptive nominee for the presidency, is trying to unseat Lee, the senior senator from Utah who's been in the Senate since 2011. A Salt Lake Tribune story cited in McMullin's lawsuit called the race between the independent and Lee potentially the closest the state has seen in 48 years.

"The advertisement being repeatedly beamed into living rooms across Utah in this final month before an important federal election — and one of the closest U.S. Senate races in decades — threatens to upend the fair discourse to which Utahns are accustomed and entitled," McMullin says in his lawsuit.

He seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as a permanent injunction " restraining defendants from making disparaging statements regarding plaintiffs in any medium or forum." He is represented by Ryan Bell, Robert Harrington and Shelby Jaye Hughes of the Salt Lake City firm Kunzler Bean & Adamson.

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