The person behind the “Devin Nunes’ cow” Twitter account should remain anonymous, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asserted in a friend-of-the-court brief filed in response to a defamation lawsuit brought by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.
While Nunes has offered no evidence that the parody account had posted false statements, the California lawmaker, who as the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and now ranking member has come under fire during the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, wants the account owner’s name to be revealed.
“Rep. Nunes cannot use a meritless defamation claim to unmask an anonymous Twitter critic for expressing a constitutionally protected opinion,” said Brian Hauss, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Project on Speech, Privacy, and Technology. “Fortunately, the First Amendment prevents the congressman from turning public courts into his own personal Star Chamber.”
Noting that the account is “obviously a parody,” judging by the “cow-related puns in the tweets,” Public Citizen attorney Paul Alan Levy said “the statements are simply rhetorical insults” that “certainly don’t meet the definition of defamation.”
Lawyers for a Democratic National Committee (DNC) official named in the Nunes lawsuit last month asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed, noting “it is self-evident that cows are domesticated livestock animals and do not have the intelligence, language, or opposable digits needed to operate a Twitter account.”
Twitter hasn’t been kind to Nunes after a mysterious late-night excursion to the White House to view intelligence –and a subsequent briefing with President Trump – brought into question his ability as then-House Intelligence chairman to lead an independent investigation of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and ties between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.
Nunes eventually recused himself after a series of what he called “false” ethics complaints filed against him compromised his ability to lead the investigation. Republicans and Democrats alike had called for Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation after the late-night jaunt; the briefing of the president, who is one target of the investigation; and the failure to share the intelligence he viewed with other members of his committee.
The committee, which more recently has spearheaded the Trump impeachment inquiry led by Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., revealed calls between Nunes and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s indicted business associate Lev Parnas.