Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the top Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), sued CNN for defamation today over its report falsely claiming he traveled to Vienna last year to secretly meet with former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin.
“CNN is the mother of fake news,” Nunes’ lawsuit, which asks for more than $435 million in compensatory and punitive damages, declares in the very first sentence of the introduction.
On November 22, CNN published a story from reporter Vicky Ward that claimed Nunes traveled to Vienna, Austria, in December 2018 to meet with Shokin, the former Ukrainian prosecutor general whose firing had been demanded by then-Vice President Joe Biden in early 2016. At the time, Shokin was reportedly investigating Burisma, a shady Ukrainian energy company that paid Biden’s son Hunter millions of dollars to sit on its board despite his lack of expertise in business, Ukraine, and the oil and gas industry.
“A lawyer for an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani tells 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,” CNN claimed in its story on Nunes.
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The problem for CNN is that Nunes, according to his lawsuit, has never spoken with or met Shokin and never traveled to Vienna in 2018. At the time of the alleged meeting, Nunes was on official congressional travel in Malta and Libya, where he met with government officials in both countries. His lawsuit included pictures of him with the prime minister of Malta and the head of the Libyan National Army.
“This statement [by CNN] is demonstrably false,” the defamation suit against CNN states. “[Nunes] was not in Vienna in 2018. Between November 30, 2018 and December 3, 2018, when CNN claims [Nunes] was in ‘Vienna,’ [Nunes] was actually in Libya and Malta.”
The lawsuit against CNN also notes that despite public denials from both Nunes and Shokin, the cable news network and its employees doubled down on its false reporting during Chris Cuomo’s television show on the evening of November 22.
“The prosecutor who was the one at the center of all the controversy met with Nunes in Vienna last December,” Cuomo falsely claimed on-air.
“Nunes meets with [Lev] Parnas several times,” Ward falsely claimed, referring to an attorney for Shokin who was indicted by U.S. authorities in October. Nunes states in his lawsuit that he has never met Parnas.
Cuomo falsely claimed again later in the interview that Nunes “went to Vienna” to “meet with Shokin.”
“Devin Nunes was not in Vienna in December 2018,” Nunes’ lawsuit notes. “Devin Nunes has never met Shokin. Devin Nunes never communicated with Parnas in December 2018 at the time of the ‘Vienna trip’ (that also never happened).”
The false claims against Nunes are similar to those levied against Michael Cohen, a former lawyer for President Donald Trump. A foreign researcher hired by Fusion GPS, the left-wing opposition researcher outfit paid by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee to dig up dirt on Trump, falsely claimed in 2016 that Cohen had secretly traveled to Prague in August 2016 to collude with Russian intelligence officials. That trip never happened, and the final report of the sprawling multi-year investigation by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller declared earlier this year that Mueller’s investigators found no evidence of treasonous collusion with Russian officials by the Trump campaign.
“CNN misrepresented the extent of its investigation and knowledge, misrepresented that it had verified Parnas’ story, and deliberately minimalized the credibility problems of its source,” Nunes’ lawsuit alleges. “CNN knew its statements were materially false, and possessed information that demonstrated the falsity of its statements.”
“In spite of multiple reports on November 23, 2019, November 24, 2019 and November 25, 2019, confirming that Shokin never met with [Nunes],” the lawsuit continues, “CNN refused to update or correct its story.”
The suit notes that multiple other news outlets who had been pitched the same false story rejected it because there was no evidence to support its claims. You can read the full lawsuit here.