Rep. Devin Nunes’ decision to sue anyone who dares to criticize him – including a fictitious cow on Twitter – backfired spectacularly last week. Again.
In a court filing, a lawyer for a former Democratic National Committee employee eviscerated the California Republican’s argument that mockery from Twitter accounts like “Devin Nunes’ Cow” and “Devin Nunes’ mom” constitutes defamation.
“No reasonable person would believe that Devin Nunes’ cow actually has a Twitter account, or that the hyperbole, satire and cow-related jokes it posts are serious facts,” reads the filing in Virginia’s Henrico County Circuit Court, according to a Sacramento Bee story by Hannah Wiley and Kate Irby. “It is self-evident that cows are domesticated livestock animals and do not have the intelligence, language, or opposable digits needed to operate a Twitter account. Defendant ‘Devin Nunes’ Mom’ likewise posts satirical patronizing, nagging, mothering comments which ostensibly treat Mr. Nunes as a misbehaving child.”
The court brief went viral on social media, increasing public awareness of Nunes’ critics in a way that likely never would have happened without his frivolous lawsuit. It sparked a trend on Twitter, with people desperate for attention begging Nunes to sue them so they might benefit from free press.
“Hey, @DevinNunes, what do I have to say to get you to sue me too,” tweeted former Clinton White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart. “You’re corrupt? You met with a bunch of corrupt Ukrainians. You still wet the bed?”
The social media backlash mirrored Nunes’ experience earlier this year, when his decision to sue the Twitter cow increased the parody account’s reach exponentially. “Devin Nunes’ Cow” had 1,000 followers on the social media site before Nunes filed his lawsuit. It now has over 667,000 followers.
Nunes’ lawsuits likely don’t stand a chance in court. Parodying elected officials like Nunes is protected by the First Amendment, and satire as an art form has a long history dating back to ancient times.
But Nunes’ lawsuits are no laughing matter because he’s not just suing fake cows. He filed — and later dropped — a lawsuit against a Dinuba, Calif., peach farmer for calling him a “fake farmer.”
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His lawsuit strategy has also targeted the press. Nunes is suing Esquire Magazine and McClatchy, the parent company of The Fresno Bee, for simply reporting on him truthfully and accurately. He sued Esquire for reporting that Nunes’ family moved its farm to Iowa years ago. He sued The Fresno Bee for accurately reporting that he owned a stake in Alpha Omega winery in a story headlined “A yacht, cocaine, prostitutes: Winery partly owned by Nunes sued after fundraiser event.”
Given the frivolous nature of Nunes’ lawsuits, one can easily draw the conclusion that he’s trying to chill free speech by miring his critics in expensive legal proceedings. If that’s the idea, it’s not working. Twitter accounts continue to mock him and the press continues to report on his increasingly grim situation.
Two weeks ago, Nunes threatened to sue CNN and the Daily Beast for reporting that “A lawyer for an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani told CNN that his client is willing to tell Congress about meetings the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee had in Vienna last year with a former Ukrainian prosecutor to discuss digging up dirt on Joe Biden.”
Lev Parnas, a Ukraine-born man arrested while trying to leave the United States in October, said through a lawyer that he is willing to implicate Nunes, who was in Europe during the period in question.
“House travel records show Nunes traveled to Europe from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3.
Three congressional aides who have worked for Nunes have matching travel receipts for the same dates, House records show,” according to a story by The Bee’s Andrew Sheeler. “The trip cost $63,525.”
Now, Nunes faces calls for an ethics investigation.
“If he was on a political errand for the president that was using taxpayer funds inappropriately then he should be investigated by the Ethics Committee and should be forced to repay the Treasury the money that was spent for a political activity,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who serves on the House Intelligence Committee with Nunes.
Given the seriousness of these matters, perhaps it’s time for Nunes to abandon his frivolous lawsuit hobby and direct his lawyers’ attention elsewhere.
This editorial first appeared in the Sacramento Bee.