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Devin Nunes' family files $25 million lawsuit against reporter over Iowa dairy farm article

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., speaks at a news conference in July 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Zuma Press/TNS)
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., speaks at a news conference in July 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Zuma Press/TNS)

Family members of U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes have filed a $25 million defamation lawsuit against former Esquire correspondent Ryan Lizza, following his 2018 investigation into their Sibley, Iowa, dairy farm.

Anthony Nunes Jr., and Anthony Nunes III — father and brother, respectively, to the California Republican and Trump ally — along with their NuStar Farms LLC, sued Lizza and Esquire publisher Hearst Magazines last week in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa.

In his article, published Sept. 30, 2018, Lizza reported on his visit to Sibley, in Osceola County, including periods during which people he identified as Nunes family members tailed his car around town in between interviews.

Lizza’s story places NuStar in the context of the Midwestern dairy industry’s reliance on undocumented labor, and cites two anonymous sources with firsthand knowledge in reporting that NuStar had employed undocumented migrants.

The Nunes’ lawsuit dismisses Lizza’s story as a “scandalous hit piece” and a “legion of lies,” written to “retaliate” against Devin Nunes for “exposing corruption” during his tenure as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

“The defendants’ misconduct is egregious,” Nunes attorneys Joseph Feller and Steven Biss wrote in the complaint. “They should never be permitted to attack the reputations and standing of anyone, especially hard-working private individuals.

“They should be punished for their unlawful actions and a very strong message needs to be sent to prevent other so-called ‘journalists’ from acting in a similar way.”

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The lawsuit contests Lizza’s description of the Nunes dairy farm’s little-reported move to Iowa, from Tulare, Calif., in 2006, as a “secret,” citing from conservative news sites Breitbart and the Federalist.

Nunes’ attorneys also note several times that Lizza in December 2017 was fired from the New Yorker magazine over sexual misconduct allegations, and suggest that he wrote about NuStar to distract from his “negative image and history as a sexual predator.”

Lizza publicly denied the allegation and multiple media outlets that investigated his conduct, including CNN and Politico, concluded there was no reason to bar him from employment, the Fresno Bee reported.

The Nunes’ attorneys and Lizza, now Politico’s chief Washington, D.C., correspondent, did not return emails Tuesday requesting comment.

The $25 million lawsuit from Anthony Nunes Jr. and Anthony Nunes III partially duplicates an earlier lawsuit against Lizza and Hearst Magazines, filed in September 2019 by Devin Nunes himself.

In that case, which remains active in the Northern District of Iowa, the U.S. representative is seeking $75 million on counts of defamation and common law conspiracy.

Devin Nunes has filed multiple lawsuits within the past year against perceived critics, including a $150 million case against McClatchy, owner of his hometown newspaper, the Fresno Bee, and a $250 million case against Twitter parody accounts “Devin Nunes’ cow” and “Devin Nunes’ Mom.”

Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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