Two days after CNN successfully booted a lawsuit by Rep. Devin Nunes’s top aide Derek Harvey, the network notched another federal court victory against the Trump loyalist from California himself on Friday.
As the impeachment inquiry swirled in Dec. 2019, Nunes sued over CNN’s reporting on allegations that the congressman met with Ukraine’s former prosecutor general Victor Shokin in Austria to get dirt on then-private citizen Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. Reporter Vicky Ward attributed the claim to an attorney for Rudy Giuliani’s indicted associate Lev Parnas. It was one of a number of lawsuits that the hard-right Republican filed in Virginia, before a federal judge there transferred the case out of “significant concerns about forum shopping” to take advantage of the state’s permissive libel laws.
After the case transferred to the Southern District of New York, CNN argued that California law should apply, as the state that Nunes calls home. The Golden State’s press freedom protections doomed the payday that Nunes hoped for: $435 million for what he described as “insult, pain, embarrassment, humiliation, mental suffering, injury to his reputation, special damages, costs, and other out-of-pocket expenses.”
Under California law, Nunes would have needed to demand a retraction for Ward’s article and later appearance on Chris Cuomo’s show in writing, but that never happened.
“The [amended complaint], which was filed over two months after the original release of the Ward Article and the Cuomo Prime Time interview, does not allege that any written request was served upon CNN, much less a request that identified the statements that Nunes may have considered defamatory,” U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain, a Bill Clinton appointee, wrote in her ruling. “Nor is there any allegation or proffer that such a demand was served at any time within the twenty-day period after Plaintiff became aware of the article and television program.”
Counsel for Nunes and CNN, the sole defendant in this case, did not immediately respond to emails requesting comment.
The ruling fell on the heels of Harvey’s failed lawsuit against CNN over similar reporting in the District of Maryland, where a judge found the Nunes aide failed to state claim against CNN and picked the wrong court as to defendants Parnas and his attorney Joseph Bondy.
“Congressman Nunes has developed a strong record in courts throughout the United States—of losing,” Bondy told Law&Crime, reacting to the new ruling. “Today’s outcome continues that trend. One can only hope that, finally, the Congressman has worn himself out.”
In a footnote, the judge rejected the congressman’s allegations acted in cahoots with Bondy and Parnas, in any way other than a journalist-source relationship.
“Plaintiff has not pleaded any facts from which the Court may reasonably infer that CNN entered into an agreement with Joseph Bondy, Lev Parnas, and others, in order to defame and injure Nunes,” the ruling states, setting aside the “conclusory” allegations of the complaint.
Like those of his aide, Nunes’s attempts to avoid California law failed.
“Nunes is a citizen of California and was born, raised, and educated there,” Swain noted. “He has represented California citizens as an elected Member of Congress since 2003.”
Last year, the non-partisan watchdog Campaign Legal Center called for a congressional investigation into how Rep. Nunes managed to pay for his flurry of litigation against McClatchy, The Washington Post, Hearst, CNN, Fusion GPS and famously, a cartoon cow.
Read the ruling below:
(Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]