News and Commentary

Congressman Sues Washington Post For Russia-Themed ‘Hit Piece’; Post Responds
US Congressman Devin Nunes looks on as US President Donald Trump delivers remarks to Rural Stakeholders on California Water Accessibility in Bakersfield, California, on February 19, 2020. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP)
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Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, filed a $250 million lawsuit against The Washington Post and national security reporter Shane Harris on Monday for what the suit describes as a Russia-themed “hit piece” that was “manufactured out of whole cloth.”

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia on Monday, claims $250,350,000 in damages over what the complaint portrays as billionaire Jeff Bezos’ use of the paper to target political figures in order to “influence Federal elections.”

“Billionaire, Jeff Bezos (‘Bezos’), purchased WaPo in 2013 for the  purpose of using WaPo’s mighty pen to influence Federal elections,” Nunes’ lawsuit states. “Bezos failed to defeat the GOP in 2016, in spite of WaPo’s notoriously libelous reporting. Bezos’ WaPo heavily promoted the Russian ‘collusion’ hoax between 2017 and 2019, in spite of the fact that there was no evidence that any member of the Trump campaign colluded with any ‘Russian’ to influence the 2016 Presidential Election. This is 2020. As this case illustrates, Bezos and his printing press remain desperate to defame the President of the United States and his allies in Congress. This defamation must end.”

The particular “hit piece” for which Nunes is suing the Post was published on Feb. 20 and claimed that intelligence community elections threats executive Shelby Pierson told members of Congress during a classified intelligence briefing the week before that Russia was attempting to help Donald Trump in the 2020 election. The article, titled “Senior intelligence official told lawmakers that Russia wants to see Trump reelected,” begins:

A senior U.S. intelligence official told lawmakers last week that Russia wants to see President Trump reelected, viewing his administration as more favorable to the Kremlin’s interests, according to people who were briefed on the comments.

After learning of that analysis, which was provided to House lawmakers in a classified hearing, Trump grew angry at his acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, in the Oval Office, seeing Maguire and his staff as disloyal for speaking to Congress about Russia’s perceived preference. The intelligence official’s analysis and Trump’s furious response ­ruined Maguire’s chances of becoming the permanent intelligence chief, according to people familiar with the matter who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.

“The defamatory gist of the WaPo Hit Piece is that Plaintiff lied to and deceived the President of the United States, which caused the President to become ‘angry at his acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, in the Oval Office, seeing Maguire and his staff as disloyal for speaking to Congress about Russia’s perceived  preference’, which ‘furious response’ ‘ruined Maguire’s chances of becoming the permanent intelligence chief’,” the complaint states. 

The Post’s publication of the “hit piece” amounts to criminal conduct because of its “dishonesty, deceit, sharp and unethical practices, and independently actionable tortious acts, all of which severely impugns Plaintiff’s integrity and prejudices him in the performance of his duties as a United States Congressman.”

The report also “falsely represents that the anonymous sources of its misrepresentations are ‘people familiar with the matter’ and/or ‘one person familiar the matter’ and/or a ‘committee official’,” the lawsuit alleges. “In truth, as WaPo and Harris knew full well, the only source of the falsehoods about Plaintiff was the House Democrats and their agents. Acting in concert with House Democrats, WaPo and Harris republished false statements in order to impugn Plaintiff’s reputation and undermine his relationship with the President.”

As reported by the Washington Examiner’s Jerry Dunleavy, the Post’s Vice President of Communications Kris Coratti Kelly responded to the lawsuit Monday. “The Post stands behind the reporting of Shane Harris and his colleagues,” Kelly told the Examiner. “We will vigorously defend our work against the claims made in Rep. Nunes’s lawsuit.”

Dunleavy notes that the claims in the Post’s Feb. 20 story have since been undermined by on-the-record statements from intelligence and administration officials, including in reports by The New York Times and the Examiner. (Read the full lawsuit here.)

The lawsuit follows two separate lawsuits brought by the Trump campaign over the last week against The New York Times and The Washington Post for promoting debunked Russian “collusion” claims in their stories.

Related: Trump Campaign Files Lawsuit Against New York Times; Times Responds