If you aren’t being sued by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., it’s because he hasn’t gotten to you yet.
In the spring, Nunes filed suit against former Charleston Gazette reporter Mackenzie Mays and her then-employer, The Fresno Bee, alleging “character assassination” over a story that connected some of his business interests with a party on a yacht that allegedly involved underage sex workers and cocaine. Around the same time, he sued Twitter and three of the social media platform’s users, again alleging defamation. The accounts were simply mocking him, something Nunes, despite being a member of Congress, has a low threshold for.
Now, the congressman is gunning for CNN and The Daily Beast, after reports that Nunes was coordinating with Trump’s camp in an effort to scare up false information. Nunes reportedly met overseas with a now-indicted foreign political operative in 2018, attempting to build a narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, was responsible for meddling in the 2016 election, and scare up dirt on a potential political rival. Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and U.S. officials, at Trump’s direction, were trying to secure the appearance of an investigation by Ukraine into Joe Biden’s son, by withholding military aid Congress appropriated to Ukraine. According to the reports, Nunes was supposed to meet overseas again, but had to call it off as the entire operation came crashing down.
So, a man on the committee investigating the president of the United States for possible corruption may well have been aiding and abetting that alleged corruption. The ethical quandary, not to mention the hypocrisy, should be alarming. Note that Nunes, instead of recusing himself, offering up a defense or asking for some sort of counter-investigation, is threatening to sue the messengers.
Why he would choose that route is fairly obvious. Remember when former West Virginia Supreme Court justice Allen Loughry asked for an investigation into his colleagues? Turns out his own backyard wasn’t so neatly kept, and the justice who literally wrote a book excoriating the corruption of Mountain State politics is now serving time in federal prison.
It’s less messy to go after the media. Lawsuits can distract from the actual issue and tie outlets down with legal proceedings and court costs. Sometimes, just the threat of a lawsuit is enough to tamp down a narrative someone in power wants to suppress.
This is abuse of the legal system. It’s also an effort to weaken independent reporting, which is something that must exist as politicians on every level of government have become seemingly more ethically compromised than ever before, while the public tries to navigate a fire hose of information jetted at them every day.
Nuisance lawsuits aren’t the only weapon deployed. In West Virginia, there is frequent talk from some corners of the right wing of proposing legislation eliminating the requirement for newspapers of record to run legal ads. They can just be posted on a government website, somewhere, the argument goes. This is a targeted attack to strip newspapers of vital ad revenue, and to keep readers from seeing important information.
The less informed the people are, the more negotiable truth and reality become. Now is the worst possible time for that to happen.