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This Could Destroy CNN (Whopping $435 Million Lawsuit)

By Byron York December 4th, 2019 | Image Source: Variety

Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, has filed a $435 million defamation suit against CNN over a story that alleged Nunes met with a fired Ukrainian prosecutor in an effort to dig up dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

The story — “Giuliani associate willing to tell Congress Nunes met with ex-Ukrainian official to get dirt on Biden” — was published Nov. 22. It was based on the words of Joseph Bondy, the attorney for Ukrainian-born Lev Parnas, who worked closely with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani in pursuing allegations of Ukrainian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election as well as allegations of corruption in Ukraine involving Biden’s son Hunter. Parnas is currently under indictment on campaign finance charges.

CNN reported that Bondy said Parnas was “willing to tell Congress” that in December 2018, Nunes traveled to Vienna to meet with Viktor Shokin, the top Ukrainian prosecutor who was famously fired in 2016 under pressure from the United States, represented by Biden, who said Shokin did not do enough to prosecute corruption in Ukraine. CNN cited congressional travel records showing Nunes and a few aides traveled to Europe between Nov. 30 and Dec. 3, 2018.

Quoting Bondy, the CNN report said, “Mr. Parnas learned from former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Victor Shokin that Nunes had met with Shokin in Vienna last December.”

Shortly after the report was published, Nunes said it was “demonstrably false” but declined to elaborate. In the lawsuit, Nunes has provided the details.

Nunes did travel between Nov. 30 and Dec. 3. The lawsuit says that on those dates, Nunes was in Libya and Malta. Nunes traveled to Libya to “discuss security issues with General Khalifa Haftar,” the suit says. In Malta, Nunes “met with U.S. and Maltese officials, including Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, and participated in a repatriation ceremony for the remains of an American World War II soldier missing in action,” according to the suit.

The lawsuit provides photos of Nunes with Haftar, with Muscat, and at the repatriation ceremony.

Rep. Devin Nunes (left) shakes hands with Gen. Khalifa Haftar (right).
(Image via Nunes lawsuit)
Rep. Devin Nunes (left) is seen with Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat (right).
(Image via Nunes lawsuit)
Rep. Devin Nunes attends a ceremony for a World War II service member’s remains.
(Image via Nunes lawsuit)

“[Nunes] was not in Vienna in December 2018,” the suit says. “Further, he has never met Shokin; never spoken to Shokin; and never communicated with Shokin.”

Also: “At no time during his visits to Libya or Malta did [Nunes] or his staff ever meet any Ukrainians or have any discussions with anyone about the Bidens.”

The lawsuit argues that CNN should have known that Parnas was an untrustworthy source. “From all the evidence in its possession, CNN was well-aware that Parnas was a renowned liar, a fraudster, a hustler, an opportunist with delusions of grandeur, a man in financial extremis laboring under the weight of a $500,000 civil judgment, and an indicted criminal defendant with a clear motive to lie.”

Despite that, the lawsuit notes, CNN published its story and stands by it today.

One obvious defense for CNN is that it simply published an allegation by Parnas through his lawyer Bondy. Indeed, the story was careful to attribute its information with “Bondy said” and “according to Bondy” and “Parnas claims.” In its defense, CNN can argue that it accurately reported on an allegation that later turned out to be false.

CNN will have a more serious problem, however, with its television reporting on the story. During that conversation, the attributions mostly disappeared, and the Parnas/Bondy allegation was presented as fact.

The story’s author, Vicky Ward, appeared the night of Nov. 22 on Chris Cuomo’s program. Cuomo asked, “How do we know that Nunes met with Shokin?”

“So, it gets interesting,” Ward answered. “So, Shokin tells Lev Parnas, Rudy Giuliani’s associate, who’s Ukraine-born … ”

“So Devin Nunes, who’s at the hearing,” said Cuomo, “and — I’m sorry, but I’m learning this from you, you know, this is new reporting — ”

“Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,” said Ward.

“Devin Nunes, at the hearing, saying, ‘This is crazy that the president would want Ukraine to look at the Bidens,’ the prosecutor who was the one at the center of all the controversy — ”

“Right,” said Ward.

“Met with Nunes in Vienna — ” said Cuomo.

“Right,” said Ward.

Whatever care CNN put into its printed story went out the window on television.

The lawsuit also deals with a second allegation from CNN. The published story included a section headlined “Nunes meeting with Parnas.” The story reported, “Brody said that according to his client, following a brief in-person meeting in late 2018, Parnas and Nunes had at least two more phone conversations, and that Nunes instructed Parnas to work with [a Nunes aide] on the Ukraine matters.” The story also said that Bondy told CNN that Parnas and Nunes “began communicating around the time of the Vienna trip” and that “Parnas says he worked to put Nunes in touch with Ukrainians who could help Nunes dig up dirt on Biden and Democrats in Ukraine.”

The lawsuit says Nunes “has never met Parnas” and “Devin Nunes never communicated with Parnas in December at the time of the ‘Vienna trip’ (that also never happened).”

But the lawsuit is less definitive about Parnas than it is about Shokin. Specifically, it is less clear on the question of whether Nunes ever spoke with Parnas on the phone at any time. The lawsuit says, “It is [Nunes’] standard operating procedure to refer matters to his staff,” and then adds, “The statements attributed to [Nunes] are false.”

On Tuesday afternoon, House Intelligence Committee Democrats released phone records showing four phone calls on April 12, 2019, between Parnas’ phone and Nunes. Two were for two seconds or less, while one was for one minute and another was eight minutes and 34 seconds. The date of the calls, April, is after the period covered by the CNN story, but nevertheless, the calls will raise questions about what transpired.

Meanwhile, on television, CNN’s discussion of the Nunes-Parnas issue was as careless as its discussion of the Nunes-Shokin issue. The quotation above from the Cuomo program contained ellipses, to cut out portions of the conversation that did not deal with Shokin. Below is the full conversation, which includes references to Parnas:

“How do we know that Nunes met with Shokin?” asked Cuomo.

“So, it gets interesting,” said Ward. “So, Shokin tells Lev Parnas, Rudy Giuliani’s associate, who’s Ukraine-born. And what’s interesting is that Nunes comes back and tries to recruit Lev Parnas. He does recruit Lev Parnas to merge his effort, his and Rudy Giuliani’s investigations, with his. He has an aide meet with Lev Parnas, and they discuss how to reach out to various Ukraine prosecutors, who might have information on the Bidens.”

“All right, wait, so hold on a second,” said Cuomo. “This is a lot. So Devin Nunes, who’s at the hearing, and — I’m sorry, but I’m learning this from you, you know, this is new reporting — ”

“Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,” said Ward.

“Devin Nunes, at the hearing,” Cuomo said, “saying, ‘This is crazy that the president would want Ukraine to look at the Bidens.’ The prosecutor who was the one at the center of all the controversy — ”

“Right,” said Ward.

“Met with Nunes in Vienna — ”

“Right,” said Ward.

“Last December,” said Cuomo. “So before all this other stuff that they’re saying was just about one phone call — ”

“Way before,” said Ward.

“Months before,” said Cuomo. “Shokin then tells Parnas, the shady guy, at the center of all this.”

“Right.”

“And then, Nunes’ staffer meets with Parnas?”

“Well, so does Nunes,” Ward said. “Nunes meets with Parnas. Nunes speaks to Parnas several times — ”

“About dirt on the Bidens?” asked Cuomo.

“Yes,” said Ward.

Reaction to the CNN report was quick and intense. The day after the story was published, the Washington Post ran a piece headlined, “Top House Democrat says ethics probe of Nunes is likely over alleged meeting with Ukrainian about Bidens.” A pro-Democratic activist group filed a complaint against Nunes with the Office of Congressional Ethics.

Now, the lawsuit adds some new facts that could change the course of the story.

Still, it is extremely hard for a public figure like Nunes to prevail in a defamation suit against a media organization. The standard Nunes must meet is exceedingly high. But a lawsuit can also be a way of making a public statement, in this case about coverage of a high-profile, controversial issue. In this new suit, Nunes does just that.

Author: Byron York

Source: Washington Examiner: Nunes sues CNN over ‘demonstrably false’ Ukraine report

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