Nunes files $75M lawsuit over Esquire story about 'secret' Iowa dairy

Rep. Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesProposed California maps put incumbents in jeopardy Devin Nunes's family ordered to reveal who is paying for defamation lawsuit Three key behind-the-scenes figures in Jan. 6 probe MORE (R-Calif.) has filed a $75 million lawsuit against Esquire magazine and political reporter Ryan Lizza, claiming a September 2018 article detailing the family’s dairy operation in Iowa was trying to damage his reputation.

Nunes filed the complaint against Lizza, now Politico’s chief Washington correspondent and a CNN contributor, and Hearst Magazines over the article entitled “Devin Nunes’ Family Farm Is Hiding a Politically Explosive Secret,” according to documents obtained by The Fresno Bee.

The story details how Nunes’s family sold their California farmland in 2006 and “secretly” moved its dairy operation to Sibley, Iowa, a community that frequently relied on labor from undocumented immigrants.


In the lawsuit, Nunes claims the article’s characterization of it being a “politically explosive secret” was defamatory.

“The Lizza Hit Piece was knowingly and intentionally flawed,” the lawsuit states. “Lizza came to Sibley with preconceived storyline. He fabricated a ‘secret’ where none existed.”

The Fresno Bee, Nunes’s hometown newspaper, noted that it had previously covered the family’s move to Iowa before Esquire published its article.

Nunes’s lawsuit against Lizza and Hearst is the fifth legal fight he’s engaged in this year. It is the second case against a news organization after he filed a lawsuit against the Bee’s owner, McClatchy Company, in April over alleged “character assassination.”

The Republican sued Twitter, GOP operative Liz Mair and two parody accounts —  "Devin Nunes' Mom" (@DevinNunesMom) and "Devin Nunes' cow" (@DevinCow) — in March. The social media giant last month refused to identify the people behind the online profiles. 

He also filed a racketeering lawsuit in federal court in Virginia against research firm Fusion GPS and the Campaign for Accountability, accusing the two of working to interfere in his efforts to investigate Fusion GPS and the origins of the infamous Steele dossier. 

Nunes’s suit makes a point of noting that Lizza was fired by his previous employer, New Yorker magazine, in 2017 for allegations of sexual misconduct. Lizza pushed back on the firing and said he was "dismayed" the publication had portrayed “a respectful relationship with a woman I dated as somehow inappropriate.”

CNN and Politico investigated the allegations and determined there was no reason to keep Lizza off the air or terminate his employment, the Bee reported.

Nunes accuses the reporter and the magazine of publishing the story to tarnish his reputation and distract from Lizza’s controversy.

“The Defendants published click-bait, sensationalist, egregious misstatements simply to sell magazines and, in Lizza’s case, to distract readers from his negative image and history as a sexual predator and to improve his standing,” the lawsuit states. “The Defendants’ had an axe to grind against Plaintiff, and wrote the hit piece in order to accomplish a nefarious purpose. Defendants’ misconduct exemplifies the very worst of modern ‘journalism.’”

Nunes is seeking $75 million for “actual damages, including, but not limited to insult, pain, embarrassment, humiliation, mental suffering, injury to his reputation, special damages, costs and other out-of-pocket expenses.”

Nunes grew up on a dairy in Tulare County, Calif., and has identified himself as a farmer. However, the Bee noted that he did not report earning any income from a farm for more than a decade. 

Nunes filed and dropped one a lawsuit against a retired Tulare County farmer and several Democratic activists who in 2018 contested Nunes’s description of himself as a farmer on ballots. The lawmaker won a legal challenge and was allowed to describe himself as a congressman and farmer.

He then listed the family’s California farm as being worth no more than $15,000 on his latest financial disclosure document from August.