Last week, two news reports connected Devin Nunes, ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee and a key Donald Trump defender, to the Ukraine scandal. Both stories report on explosive allegations by the lawyer for Lev Parnas, Rudy Giuliani’s now-arrested partner in the Ukraine shakedown.
The first story, by Betsy Swan, alleges that Parnas helped arrange meetings and calls in Europe for Nunes last year. The second story, by Vicky Ward, charges that Nunes met with the corrupt, deposed Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin in Vienna. Nunes is responding the way Nunes responds to any critical news story about himself: He is threatening a lawsuit.
The exclusive story of Nunes’s plans to bring yet another lawsuit was broken by Breitbart News. Breitbart’s reporting has established that both stories about Nunes are in fact false. Or, if not false, mostly false. And if not “in fact,” they appear false. Breitbart’s entire assessment of the veracity of the reports is contained in a single, hilariously weaselly sentence: “It is unclear at this time how much of these reports are blatantly false, but most of each of them appear to be inaccurate, according to sources familiar with the matter.” Unnamed sources assert that “most” of the stories “appear” to be inaccurate. Case closed!
Following the Breitbart exclusive news of the lawsuit, Nunes appeared in the friendly venue of Fox News, where Maria Bartiromo asked if he was in Vienna with Shokin, as Parnas’s lawyer claims. Nunes refused to answer:
Nunes’s rambling answer is that “because this is criminal in nature” — “this” apparently being news stories reporting on his activities, rather than the activities themselves — Nunes can’t even say whether the stories are true. Needless to say, that is not how libel law works. There is nothing stopping a person from denying a story they’re suing over. In fact it is quite standard.
Another thing about American libel law is that it affords journalists broad protection. Merely following basic efforts to obtain the truth is usually enough to defeat a libel suit. In this case, both reporters asked Nunes to respond to the charges contained in their stories. Nunes refused to respond to either, telling CNN, “I don’t acknowledge any questions from you in this lifetime or the next lifetime. I don’t acknowledge any question from you ever.”
Nunes has previously filed lawsuits against Esquire (over a reported story on Nunes’s family farm), the Fresno Bee (over reporting on untoward behavior at a company Nunes partly owns), Fusion GPS (for its work investigating Trump’s ties to Russia), and Twitter (for allowing people to tweet mean things about him). Nunes’s lawsuits all share certain characteristics. They make wild charges against their targets, often accusing them of acting in concert with a shadowy anti-Nunes conspiracy, failing to recognize any right of the media to report things Nunes does not wish to be made known, employing hilariously amateurish legal reasoning, while demanding extravagant sums as compensation.
Nunes’s wild lawsuit binge is either a clever plan to ward off scrutiny by threatening to tie up any news organization that reports on him with time-consuming nuisance lawsuits, or else reflects a sincere paranoia that he is the target of a massive media conspiracy combined with a total lack of awareness of First Amendment law. The latter theory seems more persuasive.