(Bloomberg) -- Former congressman and Donald Trump ally Devin Nunes cleared an early hurdle in a lawsuit accusing MSNBC host Rachel Maddow of smearing him on her show.

A federal judge in Manhattan on Monday rejected NBCUniversal Media’s request to dismiss Nunes’s lawsuit, saying he’d “plausibly’ alleged that Maddow had made a statement with malice or reckless disregard for the truth.

Nunes claims that in March 2021, Maddow falsely accused him of wrongdoing by stating that he refused to give the FBI a package he’d received from a suspected Russian agent. At the time, Nunes, a Republican, was ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

He says one of his aides turned over the package, unopened, to the FBI on the day it arrived. The lawsuit asserts that Maddow cited no source for her information about the package “because, in truth, Maddow fabricated the statements.”

NBC said the case should be dismissed because Maddow’s statements were either true or simple opinions, protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment.

Read More: Congressman Nunes Sues NBC Claiming Rachel Maddow Smeared Him

US District Judge P. Kevin Castel rejected that argument in his ruling. He said that when Maddow said Nunes had refused to give the package to the FBI, she was asserting a fact, not an opinion. 

“The statement in this respect was false, not just technically but also in substance and meaning, and capable of injuring Nunes in his profession,” the judge wrote. Castel dismissed Nunes’s claims that two other statements were defamatory.

NBCUniversal didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Nunes left Congress at the end of 2021 to become chief executive officer of the Trump Media & Technology Group.

The case is Nunes v. NBCUniversal Media LLC, 1:22-cv-01633, US District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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