California Rep. Devin Nunes has filed a second federal lawsuit against The Washington Post alleging reporters defamed him in their coverage, now the eighth defamation lawsuit he has filed in two years.
Nunes, R-Tulare, says in the complaint that the Post defamed him by including false allegations against him in a story published Nov. 9. The story was about the selection of Michael Ellis to be the top lawyer at the National Security Agency. Ellis was former chief counsel to Nunes.
Nunes takes issue with two paragraphs in the story, saying they make false allegations about him.
“Ellis, who was chief counsel to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a staunch supporter of President Trump and then-chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has been at the White House since early 2017, when he became a lawyer on the National Security Council and then this year was elevated to senior director for intelligence,” the story reads.
“In March 2017, he gained publicity for his involvement in a questionable episode involving Nunes, who was given access at the White House to intelligence files that Nunes believed would buttress his baseless claims of the Obama administration spying on Trump Tower.”
Washington Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The incident from 2017 is known as the “midnight run.” On March 21, 2017, Nunes reportedly went to the White House grounds and obtained information he used at a press conference days later.
At the press conference, he asserted that none of the FBI monitoring of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign members “was related to Russia or the investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team.”
At the time, Nunes did not disclose that he obtained information from the White House. He stepped back from some of his role as House Intelligence Committee chairman after Democratic groups filed ethics complaints alleging Nunes improperly shared confidential information at his press conference.
Nunes eventually was cleared by the Ethics Committee.
The Washington Post article cites both its own and New York Times reporting from the time that identified Ellis as Nunes’ source. Nunes’ office, responding to The Post in 2017, said Nunes “will not confirm or deny speculation about his source’s identity” or comment on statements made by anonymous sources.
Denies ‘midnight run’
But in the legal complaint, Nunes says the allegations are false. He says the midnight run “never happened” and that he “never made a ‘surreptitious visit to the White House grounds’ in March 2017.”
Nunes has told author Lee Smith that the midnight run actually took place in daylight, and that he went to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House and “I got my hands on the documents I was looking for and the next morning briefed (former House) Speaker (Paul) Ryan on it.”
Nunes in Smith’s book, “The Plot Against the President,” acknowledged someone helped him get the documents. “I wouldn’t have known where to find the records without the sources.”
Nunes also says in the complaint that he “never ‘believed’ that any intelligence files would buttress a claim Plaintiff made that the Obama administration was spying on Trump Tower.”
That aligns with his comments at the time. During the press conference at issue in March 2017, Nunes said: “I also said that while there was not a physical wiretap of Trump Tower, I was concerned that other surveillance activities were used against President Trump and his associates.” He did say that the intelligence community “incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.”
It’s the second lawsuit Nunes has filed against the Washington Post in a federal Virginia court over its coverage of him. The other case was transferred to a D.C. federal court by a Virginia judge and is pending.
Nunes has filed a total of eight lawsuits against members of the media, political operatives and detractors, including anonymous Twitter users who mock him online. He has withdrawn one and judges have either partially or completely dismissed a few others. He is appealing or has re-filed lawsuits in all of the dismissed cases. Others are still pending.
Nunes has sued McClatchy, the parent company of The Fresno Bee, the largest newspaper in his district. He has since dropped that suit, citing McClatchy’s bankruptcy. McClatchy called the lawsuit a “baseless attack on local journalism.”
This story was originally published November 18, 2020 12:31 PM.