Congressman Devin Nunes’ (R-Tulare) defamation lawsuit against the message service Twitter and one of its users who masquerades as a dairy cow has spawned a lawsuit against the US Department of Justice (DOJ).
Did the FBI Investigate @DevinCow?
A lawsuit filed March 3 in the US District Court in Washington, DC–brought by investigative reporter and Stanford law student Shawn Musgrove–seeks disclosure of information relating to any effort on the part of the FBI to unmask the owner of the @DevinCow Twitter account. It also seeks communications regarding the @DevinCow account from the Office of Congressional Affairs, as well as the offices of the US Attorney General and his subordinates, and the Office of Legislative Affairs.
The suit specifically requests information “with or without Cong. Nunes’s involvement,” and it appears to be focused on whether Nunes used his position as the chairman and later ranking GOP member of the House Intelligence Committee to further his lawsuit against Twitter and the anonymous operator of @NunesCow.
Nunes is seeking $250 million in damages in that suit, which was filed in state court in Virginia.
Musgrove’s fact-finding lawsuit comes after the FBI denied requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a decision upheld internally by the DOJ when an appeal of the denial was filed. Musgrove is represented in the suit by attorneys from the National Security Counselors, a public interest law firm.
Cow Dodges Nunes Unmasking Tries
According to the filing by Musgrove’s attorneys, lawyers representing Nunes in his case against Twitter and the operator of the @NunesCow account–a spoof account purporting to belong to a milkcow from the congressman’s family dairy–have attempted repeatedly and without success to force Twitter to reveal who operates the satirical account.
Stephen Biss, Nunes’ lead attorney in that case, even tried to force an unmasking of the @DevinCow operator through a demand filed in an entirely unrelated case for a separate client, the Musgrove suit alleges. Nunes began his defamation case in March of 2019, claiming remarks such as one referring to him as a “treasonous cowpoke” damaged his reputation.
The case now pending against the DOJ is endorsed by the owner of the @DevinCow account, Musgrove’s filing says. Since Nunes filed his suit, the @DevinCow account has gained more than 750,000 followers.
Cow Declines to Comment
Devin’s fictional milkcow isn’t the only target of litigation from Nunes.
The GOP congressman also attempted unsuccessfully to sue the international news network CNN after it reported a witness was willing to testify Nunes had traveled to Vienna to meet with a former Ukrainian prosecutor to gather damaging information about presidential candidate Joe Biden in 2018. The lawsuit, originally filed in state court in Virginia before transfer to a federal court, was dismissed last month. It sought $435 million in damages.
Asked for the comment at the time the suit against CNN was dismissed, @DevinCow said it would need to consult its attorneys
“OK, let me clear it with the lawyers,” the cow said. “I have lots of lawyers.”
The attorneys eventually declined to allow the cow to comment.
“Lawyers do not want me to give a statement at this time,” @DevinCow said. “I’m sorry.”
Nunes’ Second Twitter Lawsuit Changes Venue
While the suit against @DevinCow has gained the majority of media attention, a second case against Twitter and a purported user of that service was also pending in Tulare County Superior Court until it was removed to federal court in early February.
In October of 2020, Nunes, this time represented by Derek Paul Wisehart and Biss, filed suit against Twitter and co-defendant Benjamin Paul Meredith in Tulare County. In that suit, Nunes alleges Meredith, a former member of the Tulare County Republican Central Committee who now lives in Washington state, operated a network of Twitter accounts for the purpose of harassing Nunes.
According to reporting by the Fresno Bee, Nunes also alleges Meredith is funded by a political action committee operated by former Democratic challenger for the 22nd Congressional seat, Andrew Janz, which a spokesperson for the PAC denied.
The Bee also reported Nunes appears to believe Meredith is connected to the @DevinCow account.
Who’s Funding Nunes’ Lawsuits?
Since 2019, Nunes has filed nine cases, including suits against the Bee’s owners McClatchy, the Washington Post, Esquire Magazine, CNN, residents of his district who claimed he was not a working farmer, as well as Twitter and Meredith, and the anonymous person who operates the @DevinCow account.
Of those cases, five are no longer ongoing, and a motion to dismiss is pending in others, while Twitter has been removed as a defendant in the Virginia case. In some instances, Nunes has either appealed dismissals or refiled cases.
This flurry of legal activity moved attorneys at the Campaign Legal Center to request an ethics investigation into whether Nunes violated House of Representative rules by accepting free legal services in February of last year. It remains unclear who is footing the legal bills, Nunes himself, his campaign or if the work is being performed pro bono, and the Office of Congressional Ethics has made no official statement.
Huge Spike in Nunes Campaign Contributions
It is entirely possible the lawsuits are being funded by Nunes, as the congressman has plenty of cash on hand.
According to OpenSecrets.org, at the end of 2020, the Nunes Campaign Committee was sitting on a reserve of nearly $11 million. That was after a year that saw both record spending and record fundraising to support it. For the 2019-20 election cycle, the Nunes campaign took in $26.8 million and spent $20.1 million of it. The previous election in 2018 against Janz, Nunes raised $12.6 million. Both numbers stand out because they represent a significant increase over previous years. In 2016, by comparison, the Nunes campaign took in just $2.46 million.
The largest single recipient of Nunes Campaign Committee funds in the 2019-20 cycles was Right River LLC, a Sanger-based company owned by long-time Nunes associate Tal Cloud. In 2018, Cloud was selected as Nunes ad buyer, according to the LA Times, a position in which he had no experience.
In 2019-20, River Right took in nearly $4.6 million from Nunes.
Where the Money Went
Most of the funds raised by Nunes appear to have been spent to raise more funds.
Nunes campaign, according to federal filings, spent $12.79 million on fundraising in 2019-20, as well as another $2.8 million on media.
Payments to River Right represent the campaign’s largest single expense, and it is not clear how that money was spent. Federal filings list 168 payments from Nunes to River Right for items such as advertising, consulting, research, telephone services, data services, travel, food and beverages, and gifts for donors, constituents and supporters.
River Right also apparently handled fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts for Nunes.
The River Right Expenses
The involvement of River Right and Cloud–who began his local political career with a failed bid for Congress in 1992 and has since remained active in Fresno-area GOP politics–was so deep during the 2020 election it caught the attention of author Karen Piper. Piper, who wrote about Nunes previously, was prompted by the high percentage of Nunes spending that went to Cloud’s Right River to wonder on Twitter about his involvement.
Cloud dismissed Piper as “some dumb bitch who doesn’t have a clue” and accused her of attempting to somehow emulate the @DevinCow account.
“She’s trying to pull that Devin Cow bullshit,” Cloud said. “Forget it. I don’t have a lot of respect for that.”
Cloud also said he was not aware how much Nunes’ campaign had spent with Right River.
“I earned a lot of money,” he said. “I don’t know.”
According to OpenSecrets.org, Right River had only four sources of income in the 2020 cycle, McClintock for Congress ($15,275), the Kings County Republican Central Committee ($6,568), the Fresno County Republican Central Committee ($2,789) and Nunes’ New PAC, which paid Right River $4,589,163.
Cloud was evasive when asked what services he performs for the Nunes Campaign Committee.
“You’re leading this entirely in the wrong direction,” he said. “You know what I do.”
He then hung up the phone without further comment.