Just like everyone else, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) has the right to sue anyone he believes has done him harm. But lately the Central Valley congressman has been exercising that right to settle what appear to be political scores. It seems he has developed a skin so thin it’s a wonder he ever threw over dairy farming for the rough-and-tumble world of D.C. politics.
Earlier this year, Nunes sued: Twitter, for enabling users to mock and criticize him during last year’s campaign; McClatchy, which owns the Fresno Bee, for publishing stories during the campaign about a controversial yacht party associated with a winery he had invested in; three of his constituents, for trying in vain to remove Nunes’ chosen identifier (“farmer”) from the 2018 ballot (he has since dropped that case); and Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm behind the so-called Steele dossier, for allegedly interfering with his work when he was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
His latest legal challenge goes after writer Ryan Lizza and Hearst Magazines over an article that appeared in Esquire magazine more than a year ago. Lizza’s piece revealed the fact that Nunes’ family quietly moved its dairy farm from California to (gasp!) Iowa. The lawsuit, which portrays several of Lizza’s analyses as “false statements,” asks for $75 million in compensation for the damage to Nunes’ reputation and all the pain and suffering this story supposedly caused him.
In case you missed it, there’s a theme here. Nunes, who is President Trump’s No. 1 cheerleader in Congress, has taken a cue from his idol and is attacking people and organizations he believes are trying to thwart his political ambitions. He won his reelection in 2018, but just barely.
Nunes must know that, as a public official, he faces a higher bar for winning a defamation claim. And asserting that his critics are partisans trying to stop him from uncovering Democratic Party corruption, as several of his lawsuits do, only makes them seem more like political documents. As the courts have said, political disputes are for the voters to resolve, not judges.
It is a fair bet that Nunes never intended to help his perceived antagonists with the legal attacks. Yet, so far, the only effect of the lawsuits has been to boost the profiles of his targets. For example, one of the Twitter parody accounts that so enraged Nunes, “Devin Nunes’ Cow,” had about 1,000 followers before his lawsuit. As of Thursday afternoon, @DevinCow now reaches 621,500 followers.
Way to fight back, congressman. Best stop while you are ahead.