Representative Devin Nunes, who is bringing a $250 million suit against Twitter because he has been the subject of mean tweets, is not an obscure kook. He is a famous and highly influential kook who chaired the House Intelligence Committee until January. From this perch, he largely orchestrated President Trump’s legal defense in the Russia scandal, ejecting a wild flurry of charges that Trump is the subject of a deep state conspiracy, running a sham inquiry that claimed to clear the president of all wrongdoing, and feeding scoops to the conservative media to support Trump’s no-collusion narrative. For these efforts, Trump has praised Nunes as “a very courageous man,” and suggested that he deserves to win the Medal of Freedom.
I have spent innumerable hours excavating the loopy theories emanating from Nunes. And yet none of that prepared me for the full barking-mad preposterousness of his lawsuit. It might be the most staggeringly juvenile and inadvertently hilarious document I have ever read.
Nunes’s legal case hinges on the argument that Twitter is not merely a platform for users, but a media company with a distinct point of view. “Twitter actively censors and shadow-bans conservatives, such as Plaintiff, thereby eliminating his voice while amplifying the voices of his Democratic detractors,” the suit argues. (Nunes is referencing a conspiracy theory; Twitter does not “shadow-ban conservatives,” nor promote Democrats.)
Even if Twitter did exclude conservatives in the way he alleges, it would hardly support his lawsuit. The First Amendment provides broad legal protection for the criticism, including mockery and satire, of public officials. If Twitter wanted to censor conservatives and promote mockery of Devin Nunes, it would have a strong constitutional basis to do so.
Nunes provides almost no arguments to support his demand, which would overturn decades of well-settled legal precedent. In place of the extremely novel constitutional case he needs to make, his lawsuit asserts that the existence of very mean tweets “runs contrary to every tenet of American Democracy, including the guarantees of both the First Amendment and Article I, § 12 of the Virginia Constitution. In the words of the late United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., ‘If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.’”
You don’t have to be a lawyer to understand that this quote — defending the existence of speech from those we hate — supports the exact opposite position from Nunes. It is perhaps worth noting that the attorney representing Nunes in this lawsuit has reportedly had his law license suspended twice, and was reprimanded once.
Building atop his foundation of a completely false factual understanding of how Twitter operates and what the First Amendment means, Nunes builds the rest of his suit around detailed recounting of the mean tweets he has suffered and the pain they have caused him. “During his last re-election for the 22nd Congressional District,” the lawsuit notes, “Nunes endured an orchestrated defamation campaign of stunning breadth and scope, one that no human being should ever have to bear and suffer in their whole life.”
Specifically, Nunes cites tweets by anti-Trump Republican Liz Mair, and two parody accounts, “Devin Nunes’ Mom” and “Devin Nunes’ Cow.” He complains that Mair tweeted references to a Fresno Bee investigation showing that a winery co-owned by Nunes permitted the sexual harassment of employees, cocaine use, and visits from prostitutes, who were apparently underage. He further charges that the Devin Nunes’ Mom account “falsely impersonated Nunes’ mother … for the sole purpose of attacking, defaming, disparaging and demeaning Nunes.” To wit:
Devin Nunes’ Mom stated that Nunes had turned out worse than Jacob Wohl; falsely accused Nunes of being a racist, having “white supremist friends” and distributing “disturbing inflammatory racial propaganda”; falsely accused Nunes of putting up a “Fake News MAGA” sign outside a Texas Holocaust museum; falsely stated that Nunes would probably join the “Proud Boys”; “if it weren’t for that unfortunate ‘nomasturbating’ rule”; disparagingly called him a “presidential fluffer and swamp rat”; falsely stated that Nunes had brought “shame” to his family; repeatedly accused Nunes of the crime of treason, compared him to Benedict Arnold, and called him a “traitor”, “treasonous shitbag”, a “treasonous Putin shill”, working for the “Kremlin”; falsely stated that Nunes was “100% bought and sold. He has no interest remaining for his constituents”; falsely accused Nunes of being part of the President’s “taint” team …
This part of the lawsuit includes a helpful footnote explaining the “taint team” accusation. “The verb ‘taint’ means to contaminate morally or to affect with putrefaction,” it notes, “A ‘taint’ is a contaminating mark or influence or a trace of a bad or undesirable substance or quality. Urban Dictionary defines ‘taint’ as the area of skin on a women between her vagina and her anus.”
The list of mean tweets goes on for pages; it even includes several exhibits, including:
The legal takeaway here, from the complainant’s standpoint, is that the tweet likening Nunes to the part of Donald Trump’s body between his anus and genitals was not in fact written by his actual mother, but an imposter.
“Devin Nunes’ Cow” — the true author of which, Nunes does not bother to point out, is not the actual voice of Nunes’s cow, and in all probability not a cow at all — “has made, published and republished hundreds of false and defamatory statements of and concerning Nunes, including the following: Nunes is a ‘treasonous cowpoke’ and ‘Devin’s boots are full of manure;’ He’s ‘udder-ly worthless and its pasture time to move him to prison;’ ‘Devin is whey over his head in crime,’” and other bovine-themed puns that Nunes has found deeply wounding.
Nunes charges that these very mean tweets were published as “part of [Twitter’s] agenda to squelch Nunes’ voice, cause him extreme pain and suffering, influence the 2018 Congressional election, and distract, intimidate and interfere with Nunes’ investigation into corruption and Russian involvement in the 2016 Presidential Election.”
This nefarious campaign to hurt Nunes’s feelings by Twitter was undertaken for the larger goal of discrediting his oh-so-fair efforts to get to the bottom of the Russia scandal. The two are indeed connected: Nunes’s preposterous, juvenile lawsuit tells you everything you need to know about the intellectual caliber of Trump’s defense against the Mueller investigation.