After nearly a year, former CNN host Reza Aslan finally removed a tweet referring to Covington Catholic student Nicholas Sandmann’s “punchable face,” but that doesn’t mean the teen is willing to let bygones be bygones.
Sandmann attorney Todd V. McMurtry said Monday that Mr. Aslan is a “top” target of the teen’s legal team, which has already filed defamation lawsuits against NBCUniversal and the Washington Post, and reached a settlement last week with CNN.
“All I can say is that Nicholas Sandmann has not yet initiated legal action against Reza Aslan. He is one of our top ‘individual’ (non-corporate) targets,” said Mr. McMurtry in an email. “It is likely we will bring suit in time.”
Mr. Aslan, who hosted CNN’s “Believer” series until it was cancelled in 2017, tweeted on Jan. 19, 2019, “Honest question. Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid’s?”
The tweet, which showed a photo of the January 2019 standoff between Nicholas and elderly Native American activist Nathan Phillips, was removed last week, the day after CNN settled the $275 million lawsuit filed by the Sandmann family for an undisclosed amount.
Sandmann attorneys told a federal judge last week they plan to file lawsuits against as many as a dozen potential defendants in the next 30 to 60 days, Mr. McMurtry said.
Mr. Aslan is already a defendant in another Covington-related lawsuit: He was one of 12 media and political figures sued for defamation in August by 10 anonymous Covington Catholic High School students, a group that does not include Nicholas Sandmann.
The photo accompanying the Aslan tweet showed Nicholas and Mr. Phillips in the foreground and several other Covington teens in the background.
Attorney Robert Barnes, who represents the 10 Covington families, said he has been attempting to serve Mr. Aslan with the lawsuit.
“All of the Covington families I represent are glad to see Reza Aslan remove that tweet,” Mr. Barnes said in an email. “We continue to call for everyone else who made untruthful or harmful tweets to do the same.”
The Washington Times has reached out to Mr. Aslan, who told the Daily Beast that he has not been contacted by Mr. Barnes.
“Whatever fantasy this guy is living, it has nothing to do with me,” Mr. Aslan said. “I’ve never heard of him, I’ve never been contacted by him, I’ve never been served by any lawsuit.”
The episode refueled tension between the Sandmann camp and Mr. Barnes, who said on Twitter after the Aslan tweet’s removal that, “Apparently, Reza Aslan got served the suit I filed against him on behalf of #CovingtonBoys.”
Nicholas Sandmann responded on Twitter by emphasizing that Mr. Barnes does not represent him and telling him to “stop lying to the public.”
“Barnes can claim all he wants that he’s filed it on behalf of the covington kids but we both know that isn’t true. Reza’s tweet references only one kid, and i take up a majority of the picture,” tweeted Nicholas on Wednesday.
Mr. Barnes said in his email that “I do not represent Nicholas Sandmann.”
A judge removed in November two of the plaintiffs—Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Deb Haaland—from 10-family Covington lawsuit, saying they were elected officials immune from prosecution for their official statements.
Mr. Barnes said he has appealed the ruling to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, while the rest of the case is pending in Kenton County court in Kentucky.
Other public figures cited in the lawsuit include ABC political analyst Matthew Dowd, comedian Kathy Griffin, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, CNN contributor Ana Navarro, and activist/columnist Shaun King.
Each of the plaintiffs is being sued for no more than “the cost of a four-year tuition at the University of Kentucky,” or about $50,000.
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