Nunes Protégé Now At White House Sues Politico Over Impeachment Stories

U.S. House Intelligence Committee ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) arrives at a closed session before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees October 23, 2019 at the U.S. Capitol in Was... U.S. House Intelligence Committee ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) arrives at a closed session before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees October 23, 2019 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper was on Capitol Hill to testify to the committees for the ongoing impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) MORE LESS
November 18, 2019 5:59 p.m.

A White House official sued Politico and one of its reporters Monday, claiming its coverage putting him near the center of the impeachment drama was defamatory.

Kash Patel, a former lawyer for the Republicans’ side of the House Intelligence Committee who early this year joined the White House National Security Council, filed the suit in state court in Virginia. Patel claimed Politico undertook a “malicious effort” to “target and destroy the stellar career and reputation of a dedicated attorney.”

On Monday, Patel alleged in the rambling, harshly worded suit that Politico and its reporter, Natasha Bertrand, conspired with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, via “real-time” leaks from the chairman, to knowingly publish false and defamatory information about him.

Breitbart published a draft version of the suit on its website. Online records of the Henrico, Virginia, County Circuit Court show that a suit from Patel against Politico and Bertrand was filed Monday.

Patel has been in the spotlight before. In early 2018, he worked with White House sources to write the “Nunes memo.” The widely-panned memo,  pushed by House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes, alleged anti-Trump bias at the FBI and within the Intelligence Community and was touted by the White House as a vindication in the midst of the Mueller probe.

Interestingly, Patel’s attorney, Steven Biss, also represents House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) in his suits against two news organizations that wrote about him, McClatchy and Hearst Magazines, as well as Twitter, and two Twitter accounts that poke fun at him, @DevinNunesMom and @DevinCow. Nunes claims the news organizations and the troll accounts defamed him. Biss did not return TPM’s request for a copy of Patel’s suit as filed in court.

The suit focused on two articles of Bertrand’s published Oct. 23 and Oct. 30. Both cited anonymous sources’ descriptions of the closed-door impeachment inquiry testimony of two National Security Council witnesses — the council’s Ukraine director Alexander Vindman and its then-director for European and Russian affairs, Fiona Hill.

According to Patel, Hill’s testimony about him was “completely fabricated.” And even given that, his suit asserted, Politico “intentionally lied” in its reporting.

“This lawsuit is high on bombast and low on merit,” Politico spokesperson Brad Dayspring told TPM in a statement. “It is unserious and is a public relations tactic designed to intimidate journalists and media organizations from doing their job.”

Politico reported that Patel was “passing negative information” about Ukraine to Trump, and that Patel had “misrepresented” himself to the President at the NSC Ukraine director.

Citing leaked accounts of the witnesses’ testimonies, Politico reported that Hill had directed Vindman not to attend a presidential briefing on Ukraine because Trump actually believed that Patel was the NSC Ukraine director. Patel, according to Politico, “was so involved in the issue that at one point Trump thought he was in charge of Ukraine policy for the National Security Council.”

Patel joined the NSC as part of its Directorate of International Organizations and Alliances, and in July was moved to to the NSC’s Counterterrorism Directorate. Normally, neither position would involve briefing the president on Ukraine.

Eventually, the transcripts of Hill’s and Vindman’s testimonies, on which the Politico stories were based, were made public. In them, Hill told the committee that she came to believe Trump thought Patel to be the NSC’s Ukraine director after a conversation with a secretary at the White House.

Hill recalled the front desk staffer saying, “Oh, the President wants to talk to your Ukraine director.” She was surprised by that, she testified, and replied, “Oh?” She recalled the staffer responding: “Yeah, to talk about some of the materials.” Hill testified that she expressed surprise again. “Yeah,” she recalled the staffer saying. “So, I mean, we might be reaching out to Kash.”

After that conversation, which Hill estimated was in May, she took her concerns up the bureaucratic chain, explaining that “apparently, the President may think that Kash Patel is our Ukraine director.” She told Vindman, both she and Vindman testified, not to attend the briefing to avoid embarrassment. Vindman testified that his understanding of the situation came from Hill.

Hill said she didn’t know the nature of the information Patel was purportedly giving to Trump, but said she removed him from a distribution list because she was “alarmed.”

In his testimony, when asked if Hill had told him that “Kash Patel had been misrepresenting himself as a Ukraine director,” Vindman responded: “Yes.”

On Nov. 8, Patel denied the report, and did so again in the suit. “At no time prior to October 30, 2019 had Kash ever communicated with the President on any matters involving Ukraine,” the suit claimed. “Kash never supplied any Ukraine ‘materials’ to the President.”

Patel’s suit said the suffering Politico’s work had caused him amounted to $25 million in damages. He demanded a jury trial.

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