A federal judge has tossed out a racketeering lawsuit House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes filed last year against the private investigation firm at the heart of the Trump-Russia saga.
Alexandria, Virginia-based U.S. District Court Judge Liam O’Grady’s two-page order made short work of Nunes’ suit, which sought $9.9 million in damages from Fusion GPS, its founder Glenn Simpson and a nonprofit watchdog group, Campaign for Accountability.
The judge also signaled that pressing on with the legal battle could result in sanctions against Nunes and his attorney, Steven Biss.
The California GOP lawmaker claimed that he was a victim of “active, coordinated and ongoing corruption, fraud and obstruction of justice” by the defendants that stemmed from his efforts to investigate the firm’s role in stoking suspicions about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign.
Fusion GPS carried out a project for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee that produced a compilation of raw intelligence on the Russian connections of Trump and his allies. The controversial compendium came to be known as the Steele Dossier, after its author, former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.
Nunes’ suit, filed under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, claims that after he challenged the accuracy of the dossier, Fusion GPS, Simpson and CfA morphed that effort into one targeting him with a series of ethics complaints and other adverse publicity.
However, O’Grady said the allegations in the complaint were too vague to meet standards the Supreme Court laid out in 2007 for the amount of detail needed to move forward with a civil case. He also suggested his Virginia courtroom might not be the right place to sue.
“Defendants raise significant questions and make meritorious arguments as to both the sufficiency of the factual pleadings and the Court’s jurisdiction over these Defendants,” wrote O’Grady, an appointee of President George W. Bush. “The Amended Complaint includes many rote statements of law and conclusory allegations which fall short of satisfying the pleading standard.”
O’Grady said he’d allow a revised version of the suit to be re-filed within 30 days, but he said that should only happen if Nunes can craft a complaint that doesn’t violate a federal rule against court filings that are frivolous or unsupported by evidence.
Biss, who has filed a flurry of lawsuits on behalf of Nunes in the past year against news organizations, social media companies and political activists, did not respond to a request for comment on the dismissal order. (Biss is also representing Trump intelligence official Kash Patel in a libel suit against POLITICO.)
An attorney for Fusion GPS and Simpson, Joshua Levy, declined to comment on the decision. A spokesman for Campaign for Accountability did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A Justice Department inspector general report released in December said the FBI could not prove any of the substantive claims in the dossier and noted that when the FBI interviewed the key “sub-source” for most of the information in the documents, he denied making some of the claims and said that others were mere gossip.
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