Rep. Devin Nunes has sued CNN for defamation after the outlet alleged he met with a fired Ukrainian prosecutor in an attempt to obtain information that would be harmful to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, according to the Washington Examiner‘s Byron York.
CNN claimed in a Nov. 22 article entitled that Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, traveled to Vienna in Dec. 2018 to meet with Viktor Shokin – the former Ukrainian prosecutor who claims he was fired for investigating then-US Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter.
The “demonstrably false” report was based on allegations by Joseph Bondy, the attorney for Ukrainian-born Lev Parnas – who was heavily involved in efforts by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani to get to the bottom of alleged meddling in the 2016 US election, along with corruption allegations against the Bidens.
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 U.S., 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 November 30 and December 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. –Washington Examiner
“[Nunes] was not in Vienna in December 2018,” reads the suit. “Further, he has never met Shokin; never spoken to Shokin; and never communicated with Shokin.”
“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.”
York notes that Nunes argues 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.“
That said, York also notes that CNN has a leg to stand on – in that they can simply claim they were reporting an allegation by Parnas through his attorney. The outlet was careful to frame the allegations with phrases such as “Bondy said,” or “According to Bondy” and “Parnas claims.” Thus, CNN can say it accurately reported on an allegation which turned out to be untrue.
That said, CNN’s on-air ‘talent’ presented the Nunes allegation as fact.
The story’s author, Vicky Ward, appeared the night of November 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.
Read the rest of York’s report – including details on a second allegation, here.