A top ally of Donald Trump has sued a journalist for $75m (£61.3m) in damages for alleging his family’s farm partially relied on undocumented workers.
Devin Nunes, a California representative and former dairy farmer, filed the lawsuit in federal court against Hearst Magazines, the publisher of Esquire, and reporter Ryan Lizza.
Mr Lizza’s investigation alleged Mr Nunes conspired with his family and Iowa Republican Steve King to conceal evidence they had sold their farm in California.
It also alleged the family farm in Sibley, Iowa, relied in part on undocumented workers.
The lawsuit argued Mr Lizza’s report, published in September 2018 and titled “Devin Nunes’s Farm is Hiding a Politically Explosive Secret,” was part of an effort to target the Republican politician ahead of last year’s midterm elections.
“The Lizza Hit Piece ascribes and imputes to Plaintiff conduct, characteristics and conditions, including dishonesty, deception, lying, conspiracy, corruption, bias, lack of integrity and ethics, that would adversely affect his fitness to be a United States Congressman and/or businessperson,” the lawsuit, filed on Monday in an Iowa federal court, read.
“The strong defamatory gist and false implication from the Lizza Hit Piece is that Plaintiff was involved in, covered-up, used his office to cover up, conspired with others to conceal, or was aware of criminal wrongdoing.”
The lawsuit described the accusations in the article as “a malicious lie made out of whole cloth that spread like wildfire throughout mainstream media and on social media as a result of publication of the Lizza Hit Piece”.
Mr Nunes does not reportedly have any operational involvement in his family’s dairy farm, nor does he own any interest in the company.
The lawsuit demands $75m (£61.3m) in damages for “insult, pain, embarrassment, humiliation, mental suffering, anguish, and injury to his good name and professional reputation”.
It claims the reporter and Hearst Magazines “engaged in a joint scheme” with others to spread the article across social media to further damage Mr Nunes.
It reads: “In furtherance of the conspiracy and preconceived plan, Lizza engaged in a joint scheme with others the unlawful purpose of which was to injure Plaintiff’s personal and professional reputations, advance the left-wing goals of Nuzzi and Hearst, interfere with Plaintiff’s duties as a United States Congressman, and influence the outcome of the 2018 Congressional election.”
Mr Lizza was fired from the New Yorker over allegations of improper sexual conduct in 2017.
Mr Nunes has proven to be one of Mr Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill as the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.
He has consistently railed against Democrat-led investigations into the president and reportedly met with him to discuss the replacement for his National Intelligence director.
Mr Trump and his family members have routinely sued reporters, authors and media outlets for publishing critical information.
At one point, the president sued a reporter who referred to him as a millionaire rather than a billionaire. Mr Trump lost that libel suit.
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