Skip to main content

Rep. Devin Nunes Sues MSNBC Over Rachel Maddow Segment Accusing Him of Ties to Sanctioned Ukrainian


Devin Nunes and Rachel Maddow

The latest drip in his cascade of defamation lawsuits, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) sued MSNBC over a Rachel Maddow segment accusing him of “unexplained interactions” with a Ukrainian Parliament member suspected to be a Russian agent.

Two days after the intelligence community released a report exposing continuing Russian government efforts to influence the 2020 presidential election, Maddow aired a segment on one of the key figures of that report: Andriy Derkach, who was sanctioned by the Treasury last year as a suspected Russian agent.

Before that designation, Derkach was previously tied to Rudy Giuliani’s attempts to discredit Robert Mueller.

With the intelligence community thrusting Derkach back in the news, Maddow raised questions about a package Nunes allegedly received from the suspected Russian operative during a segment on March 18 this year.

“Congressman Nunes has refused to answer questions about what he received from Andriy Derkach,” Maddow told viewers, in a statement Nunes calls defamatory. “He has refused to show the contents of the package to other members of the intelligence community. He has refused to hand it over to the FBI which is what you should do if you get something from somebody who is sanctioned by the U.S. as a Russian agent.”

Citing Breitbart, Nunes claims that statement was defamatory. The California Republican, a Donald Trump ally, insists that he turned over that package to the Department of Justice upon receipt, turning over the package in accordance with protocol.

Maddow also accused Nunes of refusing to answer questions about the package, withholding its contents from the intelligence community and keeping it from the FBI.

“Still, the Republicans have kept Mr. Nunes on as the top Republican on the intelligence committee,” Maddow said during the March 18th segment. “How does that stand? How does that stay a thing?”

Nunes, who is from California, sued the Manhattan-based NBCUniversal Media in the Eastern District of Texas over the statements.

The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes defended the 45th president throughout his impeachment scandals, and Democrats implicated him in the scandal in Ukraine. The first House Impeachment report repeatedly tied him to phone calls to Giuliani’s indicted former associate Lev Parnas through phone records.

The California congressman’s lawyer Steven Biss filed a series of mysteriously funded defamation lawsuits against news organizations and a parody cartoon Twitter cow. The Justice Department under then-Attorney General Bill Barr tried to unmask the operator of another Twitter account that spoofed Nunes, in an effort revealed this past May.

That month, a Ronald Reagan-appointed federal judge issued sanctions over one “frivolous” lawsuit filed against CNN over its reporting on the congressman, Parnas, and Ukraine. Other lawsuits that Nunes filed fared no better, and a watchdog questioned whether the congressman’s salary could have sustained the litigation blitz.

The dismissal of One America Network’s lawsuit against Maddow by a federal judge in California last year indicates Nunes could have an equally tough row to hoe in his latest lawsuit.

“Maddow does not keep her political views a secret, and therefore, audiences could expect her to use subjective language that comports with her political opinions,” U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant wrote in a May 2020 ruling dismissing a complaint by OAN’s parent company Herring Networks.

“Thus, Maddow’s show is different than a typical news segment where anchors inform viewers about the daily news,” she continued. “The point of Maddow’s show is for her to provide the news but also to offer her opinions as to that news.”

Even if Maddow did not enjoy broader latitude as a commentator, Bashant cited another reason to dismiss OAN’s suit.

“There is no dispute that Maddow discussed this article on her segment and accurately presented the article’s information,” Bashant wrote.

On the political right, Tucker Carlson’s lawyers deployed a more sweeping argument denying that a reasonable viewer would believe he made statements of fact—an argument later accepted by a federal judge.

Though Biss is participating in the latest Nunes lawsuit, the lead signature line on the lawsuit is Texas-based lawyer Madhu S. Sekharan.

NBCUniversal Media declined to comment.

Read the lawsuit below:

(Nunes photo by Mark Wilson at Getty Images; Maddow photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images for AWXII)

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow Law&Crime:

Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."