Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) campaign dropped the lawsuit it filed against several constituents who accused him of being a “fake farmer,” the Fresno Bee reported.
The lawsuit was filed last month in Nunes’ home county of Tulare, alleging that the defendants — which included a farmer, a librarian and a non-profit worker — conspired with “dark money” groups in an effort to damage his reelection bid. The saga stretches back to the 2018 campaign, in which the group of defendants petitioned the California secretary of state to remove the “farmer” designation from Nunes’ ballot. It’s been widely reported that Nunes’ family dairy farm is actually located in Iowa, not his home state. (According to Nunes’ latest financial disclosure, he recently acquired a small farm that generates no income in Tulare County, California for $15,000.)
The Nunes campaign lawyer told the Fresno Bee that the suit was voluntarily dropped because the campaign was having a difficult time locating one of the defendants — a man named Michael Seeley who is a part of the Southern California Americans for Democratic Action group — and because the “underlying allegations” could be incorporated in a new lawsuit, which Nunes filed in a Virginia court on Wednesday.
“We gathered further evidence which supports the plaintiff’s overriding concerns that dark money is being used to influence our elections,” attorney Peter Kapetan told the Fresno Bee. “Given the new evidence recently discovered, the Nunes campaign committee voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit, and the allegations underlining the lawsuit will be incorporated in a (racketeering) lawsuit filed in Virginia today.”
But the lawyer representing the constituent defendants in the case told TPM Thursday that he believes Nunes’ attorneys did not know the strength of California’s anti-SLAPP laws — which allow for the quick dismissals of cases that involve speech on issues that are of public concern — before filing the suit.
“They must’ve done the research and figured out they were going to lose significantly,” the defendants’ lawyer Brian Whelan told TPM. “There’s no question it was pretty cut and dry.”
Whelan said the constituents are likely off the hook for now. None of them are named in the new complaint, and Nunes’ lawyers assured Whelan this week they wouldn’t refile the lawsuit “at this time.” But it doesn’t change the precedent that Nunes set by suing the people he’s suppose to represent in Congress.
“They are unhappy that they were sued for availing their Constitutional rights,” Whelan told TPM. “It is pretty scary for anyone to be sued by a very powerful congressman. In California, he’s one of the top two most powerful (Republicans). You have (House Minority Leader Kevin) McCarthy and you have Nunes. … You don’t want to be in a situation where that person is coming after you.”
The new lawsuit is against Fusion GPS, the opposition research group that was involved in the Christopher Steele dossier that initially alleged a link between President Trump and Russia, and the Campaign for Accountability, a watchdog group that was named in the earlier lawsuit, but not as a defendant, for filing ethics complaints against Nunes during his last election.
The Daily Caller was first to report on the latest suit, which seeks $9.9 million in damages and alleges that Campaign for Accountability worked with Fusion GPS on a “joint and systematic effort to intimidate, harass, threaten, influence, interfere with, impede, and ultimately to derail” Nunes’ probe into the dossier. At the time, Nunes was head of the House Intelligence Committee, leading the panel’s Russia probe.
The lawsuit cites a report published in the Daily Caller at the beginning of August that claimed, citing 2018 tax filings, that Campaign for Accountability paid Fusion GPS $140,000 for research. Campaign for Accountability has denied that the funding went toward any research into Nunes and told TPM the allegations are “ridiculous.”
“Rather than defend his unethical conduct, Devin Nunes is trying to muddy the waters by attacking an independent watchdog group,” Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Daniel Stevens told TPM in a statement. “CfA’s ethics complaints detail how Devin Nunes apparently leaked confidential information and failed to disclose his personal finances as required by law. Since Nunes can’t explain away these ethical lapses, he has resorted to filing poorly drafted lawsuits to deflect attention. Now more than ever, it is imperative for ethics investigators to look into Devin Nunes’s troubled past and hold him accountable.”
Nunes is also suing Twitter, two troll Twitter accounts and McClatchy, the company that owns the Fresno Bee for hundreds of millions of dollars for what he alleges were orchestrated attacks to defame him in 2018.
Read the new suit against Fusion GPS and Campaign for Accountability below: