Devin Nunes may regret trying to silence his critics
U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Laughing Stock) has filed yet another frivolous lawsuit in his series of frivolous lawsuits.
The latest is a $435 million defamation suit against CNN, something he had been threatening ever since the cable network published information that Nunes had met with a former Ukrainian prosecutor on a trip to Vienna in 2018 to seek dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden.
The California GOP lawmaker, already infamous for suing a fictitious cow, called the CNN story, which was first published Nov. 22, a “demonstrably false hit piece.” According to a Washington Post story on the suit:
The lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleged violations of Virginia’s law against insults and said CNN reporter Vicky Ward, who wrote the article, and anchor Chris Cuomo, who discussed its details on air, conspired with the network “to boost CNN’s ratings and further the House Democrats’ impeachment ‘inquiry.’”
“In promoting fake news about secret meetings in Vienna with a corrupt former Ukraine prosecutor, CNN pandered to lurid curiosity,” the complaint said. “CNN is the mother of fake news. It is the least trusted name. CNN is eroding the fabric of America, proselytizing, sowing distrust and disharmony. It must be held accountable.”
Nunes says he was in Libya, not Vienna, on an overseas trip at the time. Yet Nunes claimed expenses of nearly $57,000 for a four-day trip for him and his staff to Europe, not Africa, a claim that shows up on a House expenditure report on foreign travel.
The Post story points out that CNN repeatedly asked Nunes for comment on its story, but he refused all requests. Nunes told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that “he does not respond to any questions from CNN in protest of other ‘fake news’ stories on him.”
It’s always hard to take Nunes’ protestations seriously, but it’s especially hard after Nunes’ name appeared in telephone logs in the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment report. Those phone records link Nunes to several players involved in pushing the false narrative about Ukraine being peddled by Republicans. As a CNN story spelled it out, “The phone records, which are labeled in the report's endnotes as coming from AT&T, show a web of communications between [The Hill’s John] Solomon, Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, Ukrainian American businessman Lev Parnas, Nunes and the White House's budget office.”
Devin Nunes is a public figure and obviously knows better than to file such nonsense. After all, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld the right of parody in 1988, and the bar is set extremely high for public figures to win defamation suits. But the CNN lawsuit is just the latest in a series of Devin Nunes SLAPPs.
Nunes filed his lawsuit against CNN in Virginia, not California, the state in which he has represented the people in two different congressional districts in the Central Valley since 2003. That’s because California has a law against strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs. While Virginia has an anti-SLAPP law, it is generally regarded as ineffective.
A Wikipedia definition of a SLAPP suit is “a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. Such lawsuits have been made illegal in many jurisdictions on the grounds that they impede freedom of speech.” Thirty-one states have anti-SLAPP laws on the books.
Since Democrats now hold majorities in both houses of the Virginia Legislature, there has been talk of Virginia passing a stronger anti-SLAPP law. But for now, Nunes has filed six lawsuits against journalists, media companies, Twitter, the aforementioned fictitious cow, and even some of his own constituents. Swell representative, isn’t he?
Roll Call has a rundown of all six of Nunes’ suits, with the headline, “It’s Devin Nunes v. World when it comes to lawsuits.” He finally had to drop one, while the others are progressing. But Nunes is being mocked severely for looking like such a tool.
Besides the CNN suit, here’s where the rest of the lawsuits stand:
The fictitious cow. You’d think a lawmaker with any self-respect would fear being laughed out of the House chamber for suing a parody Twitter account owned by a cow, but this is Devin Nunes we’re talking about. In March, Nunes filed a $250 million defamation suit against Twitter, an account claiming to be owned by Devin Nunes’ cow, an account claiming to be owned by Devin Nunes’ mom, and Republican consultant Liz Mair. A judge is allowing the suit to move forward, but not before a legal brief in the suit highlighted cows’ lack of opposable digits, thus questioning their ability to tweet.
Cocaine and prostitutes and a winery. In April, Nunes sued The Fresno Bee and its parent company, McClatchy, for $150 million over a 2018 story about a winery Nunes has invested in. The winery is being sued for civil rights violations. “A winery employee alleged that a charity auction held aboard a winery-owned yacht featured cocaine and prostitutes, some possibly underage," according to the Roll Call account. Nunes’ suit claims that the story falsely implied “that he was involved with cocaine and underage prostitutes.” (The story didn’t.) That suit is still moving forward.
Moving the farm. In a 2018 story in Esquire, journalist Ryan Lizza reported that Nunes’ parents had moved their dairy farm from California to Iowa (a fact Nunes has not disputed but apparently never bothered to tell constituents) and that they were employing undocumented immigrants. In September 2019, Nunes sued Lizza and Hearst Magazines for $77.5 million, claiming that Lizza and Esquire had “an axe to grind” against him and had engaged in a conspiracy to damage his reputation by sharing the story on the air and through social media (gasp!). That suit was filed in Iowa, which has no anti-SLAPP law.
Suing his own constituents. How bad can a representative be? Besides the fact that he hasn’t held a town hall meeting with his own constituents for nearly 10 years, Nunes sued four of them, “claiming they were part of a coordinated campaign with ‘dark money’ groups that accused him of falsely implying he was a farmer” in the 2018 election. He dropped the suit, filed in California’s Tulare County, in early September.
Interference with the Trump-Russia investigation. September must have been a slow month for Nunes, because he also filed a $9.9 million lawsuit against Fusion GPS and a watchdog group, the Campaign for Accountability, for “attempting to interfere with the Trump-Russia investigation” and racketeering. It’s a little rich for a Republican to accuse anyone else of interfering with that investigation, don’t you think? The watchdog group has filed to dismiss the suit.
Nunes didn’t always feel so righteous about the right to sue. In early 2017, he co-sponsored the Discouraging Frivolous Lawsuits Act. The bill died in the last Congress, but its purpose was to amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to discourage people from suing and to remove the veto power of the Environmental Protection Agency over projects of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
That bill’s chief sponsor, Republican Tom Rice of South Carolina, issued a press release in February 2017 on his bill’s purpose: “to streamline the permitting process for infrastructure projects and hold special interest groups accountable for filing frivolous lawsuits. Under current law, it is too easy for special interest groups and the EPA to unnecessarily stall infrastructure projects, resulting in years-long delays and increased costs at taxpayer’s expense.”
So the Discouraging Frivolous Lawsuits Act was a great bill for Republicans to use against consumer groups and the EPA, but heaven forbid that any law would stop a publicity hound like Nunes from filing lawsuits for hundreds of millions of dollars.
If you want a little bedtime reading to take your mind off Republican hypocrisy, consider this take on Margaret Wise Brown’s children’s classic:
“Good night @DevinNunes career.” If only ...