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Opinion

Column: Devin Nunes sued a fake cow. And kept suing and suing and suing …

Rep. Devin Nunes
Republican U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes of Tulare has become lawsuit happy this year, filing against a peach farmer, Twitter, a fake cow and others who have criticized or made fun of him.
(Getty Images)

It’s been a big legal year for Republican U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes of Tulare, who once co-sponsored the “Discouraging Frivolous Lawsuits Act.”

He has sued:

¤ A stone fruit farmer in Dinuba, and two other people, for conspiring to damage his 2018 reelection by asking that Nunes not be allowed to call himself a “farmer” on the ballot.

¤ The research firm Fusion GPS and a Democratic group called Campaign for Accountability for attempting to interfere with his “investigation” (quote marks are mine) into ties between President Trump and Russia when he was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

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¤ Twitter and a couple of parody accounts, including @DevinCow, who has called Nunes “a treasonous cowpoke.” He is asking for $250 million to assuage his hurt feelings.

¤ McClatchy, parent company of Nunes’ hometown paper, the Fresno Bee, for writing that he had a financial interest in a winery sued by an employee who was asked to work on a charity cruise where men behaved very, very badly.

¤ And, most recently, Esquire magazine and the journalist Ryan Lizza, who Nunes claims have defamed him to the tune of $75 million in writing about the Nunes family dairy farm, which is not in California, but in Iowa, a fact Lizza alleged Nunes has sought to downplay. Lizza also wrote about how undocumented workers form the backbone of the Iowa dairy farm industry, and how the industry would collapse without them.

To help get a sense of the injury caused by an organic peach farmer, reporters and a fake cow, Nunes’ lawsuits first lay out what a fantastic guy Nunes is:

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“Nunes’ career as a U.S. Congressman is distinguished by his honor, dedication and service to his constituents and his country, his honesty, integrity, ethics, reputation for truthfulness and veracity.”

This is a helpful corrective, I guess, because most people think of Nunes as the Trump lackey who sneaked into the White House in the middle of the night last year to receive information that he turned around and claimed to be presenting to Trump for the first time the next day. Instead of really trying to figure out how Russia had mucked about in the 2016 election, Nunes was helping Trump make a case against American spy agencies.

Or maybe people think of him as the guy who hasn’t held a town hall meeting for constituents in years.

Or perhaps as the elected official who refuses to talk to his hometown paper, the Fresno Bee, which endorsed him in all but his most recent election.

It’s hard to conceive, apparently, how devastating it can be to a powerful congressman to be the butt of silly but pointed tweets.

“In 2018, during his last re-election,” says his lawsuit against Twitter and the cow, “Nunes endured an orchestrated defamation campaign of stunning breadth and scope, one that no human being should ever have to bear or suffer in their whole life.”

The defamation campaign, Nunes complained, caused him to win by a smaller margin than he usually does against Democrat Andrew Janz, the Fresno prosecutor who came within 5 points of unseating him.

It’s almost as if Nunes thinks he is the victim of a vast bovine conspiracy, when what he is really doing is weaponizing the American legal system in an effort to shut down criticism, punish his antagonists and prove to Trump World that, like the president, he will stop at nothing to destroy those who would dare to oppose him. Or call him names like “Milk Dud.”

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On Thursday, I checked in with @DevinCow, whose identity has not been revealed, and who has been advised by her (I assume) lawyers not to speak to reporters by phone.

We communicated via Twitter direct message.

Normally, I would not quote an unreal ungulate, but, forgive me, as I have no choice. The cattle did not prattle; she got straight to the point:

“I consider the lawsuit frivolous,” the cow wrote. “Nunes has defamed me. He publicly stated that I’m involved in a conspiracy, as a foreign actor, use dark money and am part of his opponents’ campaign. None of this is true.”

The cow thinks that Nunes is filing lawsuits to scare off critics, tie them in legal knots and either “bankrupt and/or wear them out emotionally.”

The lawsuits, the cow noted, have also been great for Nunes’ fundraising. Could this be the real reason he has become lawsuit-happy?

As McClatchy Washington, D.C., bureau reporter Kate Irby wrote, Nunes raised nearly $1.9 million in the last quarter, and more than $3 million this year. According to the website Open Secrets, he has $6.9 million cash on hand, the most of any House incumbent, trailed only by his archnemesis, Democratic Rep. Adam B. Schiff, who has $6.7 million.

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Irby reported that almost none of Nunes’ donations in the last quarter came from inside his district, which includes parts of Fresno, plus Clovis, Tulare and Visalia. Instead, it came from interest groups and corporate PACs.

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I also reached out to retired organic farmer Paul Buxman of Dinuba, who was sued by Nunes after he and two others asked the state not to allow Nunes to identify himself on the ballot as a “farmer.”

“I never asked him to admit he’s not a farmer,” Buxman said. “I asked him to give a proper and honest designation. I believed it could help him. When you are propping up something that’s not honest, it takes a lot of energy to stay ahead of that game — you know, his pictures walking through almond orchards and wearing jeans. The Chinese say, a half-truth is worse than a lie.”

He thought Nunes should identify himself as a “farmer’s advocate.”

Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat, ruled that Nunes could continue to identify himself as a farmer, even though he doesn’t farm and only recently began to declare on financial disclosures his ownership of a Tulare farm, according to the Visalia Times Delta, which has generated no income.

That Nunes turned around and sued Buxman — a constituent — for challenging his status tells you that the congressman’s skin is as thin as the skin on a grape. The case was later dropped.

Buxman, an artist whose plein-air paintings of the farms and waterways in the San Joaquin Valley are collected by admirers, has always made a point of giving a painting to his elected representatives in Washington, so they don’t forget the land they represent. He has not been able to meet with Nunes in order to give him one.

When he was a child, he told me, he was in charge of picking a flat of the very best peaches from his family farm to send to each incoming president, as a gift and reminder of the bounty of California’s farmland. He still has a thank you from President Eisenhower.

Buxman said he has been reaching out to Nunes since 2003, after he was first elected to the House of Representatives, but that Nunes, for the most part, has been unresponsive.

“When things started to get worse after Donald’s election,” Buxman said, “it seemed like Devin was giving up hope of forming a bond with his constituents.”

I guess he’d rather sue them than talk to them.


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