Washington

Lawyers for the Washington Post fire ex-Nunes aide in defamation lawsuit over 2017 White House visit

In late 2020, Nunes sued The Post. He alleges in his complaint that a Post story published earlier this year – which described Nunes’ visit to the White House as a “midnight run” to support Trump’s baseless claims that his “wires were bugged” when he Presidential candidate was – was wrong and intended to imply nefariousness. The Post report came amid escalating investigations related to the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia and as Trump attacked intelligence agencies tracking the matter.

After the story went public, The Post added a correction at the top, noting that Nunes had stated he did not believe the wiretapping claims and that his visit to the White House “occurred during daylight hours.”

The lawsuit is among a series of lawsuits Nunes has filed against news outlets, and Post lawyers have accused him in court of conducting the lawsuit for political and fundraising purposes. They have told the judge in their case that they are seeking evidence from Nunes and his aides both about the circumstances of the 2017 trip to the White House that could help prove the accuracy of the newspaper’s reporting, and evidence how Nunes did it has attempted to profit from the litigation.

Among the evidence obtained by The Post is an official visitor’s log showing Nunes arrived at the White House at 5:30 p.m. on March 21. Nunes estimates he stayed there about 90 minutes before attending a Republican Party event and then an afterparty with voters and a then-Housemate, former Rep. George Holding (RN.C.)

But during Wednesday’s nearly two-hour hearing, US District Court Judge Carl Nichols chided Nunes and his attorney Steven Biss for what he described as incomplete responses to the Post’s demands for information about the 2017 White House trip. The Post had asked Nunes — and ordered Nichols — to create a detailed itinerary about his whereabouts and actions on March 21, 2017, and received just three paragraphs in response, with important details about where he was and who he was with , were left out.

“That’s not a timeline — that couldn’t be more general,” Nichols complained to Biss.

Biss filled out some of those details at Wednesday’s hearing, leading Nichols to suggest the information should have been released to the Post.

“It’s not about telling me verbally what you think happened,” the Trump-appointed judge said.

The Post claimed that the limited production of Nune’s information about his White House visit defied credulity. He told the newspaper that only his former spokesman, Jack Langer, had relevant details about this trip and that he had never emailed, texted or spoken to other aid workers or colleagues about it. Biss said Nunes couldn’t remember exactly how he arranged the visit, but believes he coordinated it with Ellis over a “secret” phone line and even treated the logistical details of the visit as secret.

“Everything that had to do with this meeting was kept secret,” Biss emphasized.

But Nichols noted that Nunes publicly discussed the visit the next day. And Post attorney Nicholas Gamse said Ellis’ own testimony contradicted aspects of that story. Ellis, he said, recalled stepping out of a secure room to reach Nunes on his personal phone, not a confidential line. And Ellis told the newspaper he may have written about it with Nunes as well. However, Nunes did not provide call recordings or texts in response to the court’s disclosure order.

Gamse claimed that Nunes’ claim of having so little to produce in response to the court’s order was hardly credible. Ellis, he said, also recalled discussing the documents that Nunes discussed with other Nunes employees on the House Intelligence Committee. And Nunes gave no details about when and how he left the White House to attend the GOP function, including whether he was traveling with someone or taking a car for which a receipt may be available.

“We didn’t get a clear answer,” complained Gamse.

Nichols said he intends to quickly rule on the Post’s complaints to move the case forward.

Biss countered the Post’s concerns by suggesting there simply wasn’t much for Nunes to produce. He did not discuss his visit to the White House with staffers, never exchanged emails or text messages with them, and asked his former staffers to look for information, only to be told they had none, the attorney said.

However, postal attorneys said they received at least a text message from Caitlin Shannon, Nunes’ former assistant chief of staff, and a detailed travel itinerary from Morrow, his scheduler, which Nunes did not hand over in the case. The newspaper’s lawyers also raised concerns that some potentially relevant evidence may have been destroyed when Nunes resigned his seat in Congress in late 2021 and staff members returned their official devices.

Biss also announced Wednesday that he and Nunes are considering filing suits against at least one other news organization over their coverage of the controversial White House visit. The attorney did not specify which other outlet Nunes was considering suing.

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