(Colorado Newsline) A North Carolina political activist filed a defamation lawsuit against U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert of Silt in federal court Thursday.
Plaintiffs David Wheeler, who last year publicized information about Boebert in an effort to derail her reelection bid, and the super PAC American Muckrakers claim that Boebert defamed Wheeler by falsely accusing him of defaming her.
Boebert and "John Does," to be named later, are identified as defendants.
The complaint, filed against the Republican in U.S. District Court of Colorado, alleges that Boebert made "maliciously false statements" about Wheeler and American Muckrakers, of which he is president, on multiple occasions last summer, particularly during broadcasts of TV and radio host Sean Hannity's shows.
Wheeler in March said he was considering whether to identify Boebert-aligned media entities, such as Fox News and Hannity, as defendants. Hannity is discussed extensively in Wheeler's complaint and is alleged to have provided a platform for and amplified false assertions made by Boebert.
Fox personality Tomi Lahren is also singled out in the complaint as having provided a platform for Boebert to allegedly defame Wheeler.
Newsline requested a comment from Boebert's office but had not received a reply at the time of publication.
American Muckrakers last year exposed unflattering information about former Republican U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina and is credited with helping to turn voters against the representative, who lost his primary bid.
The group then targeted Boebert. Wheeler and Muckrakers, citing sources close to Boebert, published information about Boebert that appeared to run counter to her political stance against abortion, among other allegations. The most notable release of information came in a June 14 press release that attracted national media attention.
The group's claims about Boebert in some cases lacked corroborating evidence or were shown to be false. But Wheeler stands by his main allegations against Boebert, and the lawsuit notably asserts that "Boebert was aware that she had" worked as a paid escort, had two abortions, and used illegal drugs, even as she accused Wheeler and Muckrakers of publishing "false statements knowing they were completely fabricated," characterized the statements as "defamation," and said she was "moving forward with a lawsuit."
Boebert never followed through with her threat to sue Wheeler and Muckrakers.
A key difference between the Colorado and North Carolina lawsuits is that the case filed Thursday invokes Colorado's anti-SLAPP law. Enacted in 2019, the statute, concerning strategic lawsuits against public participation, protects Coloradans who exercise free speech rights from meritless lawsuits. Wheeler claims Boebert's threats of litigation are subject to sanction under Colorado's anti-SLAPP law, and he wants the suit to help develop case law around the statute.
"This case is filed in part to extend existing precedent establishing the meaning of Colorado's law so that it provides the protection intended by our legislators in enacting the statute for the protection of citizens' rights as plaintiffs as well as defendants," the suit says.
Wheeler and his attorney, Dan Ernst, who is based in Denver and specializes in defamation, have communicated through letters and email with legal counsel and other representatives for Fox News and Hannity, according to copies of the communication obtained by Newsline from a source familiar with the matter.
According to the communication, Wheeler and Ernst indicated that their dispute with Fox News could be resolved if the company retracted allegedly defamatory statements about Wheeler and allowed him to appear on Hannity's show "to correct the record," as Ernst put it in a letter to Steven P. Mandell, outside counsel to Fox and Hannity. Mandell in a March 19 letter to Wheeler flatly rejected the proposal and wrote that "there is no merit to any of your claims."
Wheeler in a March 20 email addressed to Fox's top brass, including founder Rupert Murdoch and Fox Corporation CEO Lachlan Murdoch, as well as Hannity, Wheeler repeated the proposal in colorful terms: "What do you say about a good ol' western shoot-out between Boebert and me on Sean's show as a friendly way to resolve this and avoid f***ing lawyers, and courts?"
Mandell again rebuffed Wheeler's request to appear on Hannity's show in an April 5 letter to Ernst.
Wheeler's lawsuit comes less than two months after Fox agreed to pay Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems $787.5 million in a defamation case. He is asking the court to award him an unspecified amount in damages.
Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.