Fox News reported Monday that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) has filed a $150 million lawsuit in a Virginia state court against McClatchy newspapers, which owns and operates The Fresno Bee.
Nunes’ lawsuit comes on the heels of a $250 million defamation lawsuit filed last month against Twitter and one of its users, political operative Liz Mair.
In his latest lawsuit, Nunes, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, alleges that Mair conspired with then-McClatchy reporter Mackenzie Mays to hurt the congressman’s reputation via a story published about a lawsuit filed and subsequently settled against a Napa Valley winery in which Nunes is an investor.
Nunes also alleges that Mair and Mays teamed up to cast doubt on Nunes’ efforts to probe the Hillary Clinton campaign and Russian election interference.
“With the limited opportunity we have had to review this claim, it is wholly without merit and we stand behind the strong reporting of The Fresno Bee,” a McClatchy spokeswoman said Monday night.
Lawsuit Cites Story About Winery
The article, which was published May 23, 2018, appeared under the headline “A yacht, cocaine, prostitutes: Winery partly owned by Nunes sued after fundraiser event.”
Nunes additionally states, according to the story written by Fox News reporter Gregg Re, that the yacht was not a “fundraiser” but a cruise resulting from a charitable donation — one that McClatchy knew Nunes had no involvement with.
Nunes Must Clear an Extremely High Bar to Win
As noted by Re, Nunes is a public figure, so to prove defamation his attorneys must demonstrate that the defendants acted recklessly or intentionally spread falsehoods, rather than acting with negligence.
And Virginia, like many states, includes strong protections for journalists and other actors accused of defamation in what is called an “anti-SLAPP statute.” SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.”
Too Close for Comfort
In the 2018 election, Nunes retained California’s 22nd District seat in the House of Representatives with 52.7% of the vote, beating back Fresno County prosecutor Andrew Janz, a Democrat whose campaign raised $10 million.
It apparently was an uncomfortable margin of victory for Nunes, who was accustomed to trouncing his opponents or even running unopposed for the seat. He cited the narrow margin as evidence of the damage done to his reputation in the lawsuit filed against Twitter.