Devin Nunes Sues Again; He REALLY Doesn't Want You To Read This Article About His Family's Cow Farm In Iowa

from the really,-don't-read-it dept

Devin Nunes is on quite a roll with stifling free speech. The Congressman, who once co-sponsored a bill discouraging frivolous lawsuits and also voted for a House Amendment saying that free speech should be protected, has been filing a whole bunch of lawsuits that appear to serve no purpose other than to stifle free speech — mainly free speech that criticizes Devin Nunes. Back when he filed the first of these suits (against satirical Twitter accounts, among others), we noted that he seemed particularly mad about an article by Ryan Lizza in Esquire trying to track down details about the Nunes’ family’s dairy farm, which is not in California where Nunes’ Congressional district is, but in Iowa. Lizza noticed that Nunes appeared to go to great lengths to not have the public realize that his family’s dairy farm (which is a big part of his bio) up and left California. The article is entitled Devin Nunes?s Family Farm Is Hiding a Politically Explosive Secret and it is absolutely worth reading, in part because Devin Nunes really doesn’t want you to read it. But also, in part, because it had paragraphs like this:

Nunes grew up in a family of dairy farmers in Tulare, California, and as long as he has been in politics, his family dairy has been central to his identity and a feature of every major political profile written about him. A March story in National Review is emblematic. It describes how Nunes?s family emigrated from the Azores in Portugal to California?s Central Valley, ?a fertile, sunny Eden,? and how the family ?worked and saved enough money to buy a 640-acre farm outside Tulare.? The soil of the Central Valley is depicted as almost sacred in these articles. National Review quotes a 1912 Portuguese immigrant farmer who wrote that when he grabs a clump of dirt, ?I feel as if I had just shaken hands with all my ancestors.? As recently as July 27, the lead of a Wall Street Journal editorial-page piece about Nunes, which featured a Tulare dateline, emphasized the dairy: ?It?s 105 degrees as I stand with Rep. Devin Nunes on his family?s dairy farm.? Last year, Nunes noted in an interview with the Daily Beast?headline: ?The Dairy Farmer Overseeing U.?S. Spies and the Russia Hack Investigation???I?m pretty simple. I like agriculture.? The Daily Beast noted, ?The cows are not far from his mind. He keeps in regular contact with his brother and father about their dairy farm.?

So here?s the secret: The Nunes family dairy of political lore?the one where his brother and parents work?isn?t in California. It?s in Iowa. Devin; his brother, Anthony III; and his parents, Anthony Jr. and Toni Dian, sold their California farmland in 2006. Anthony Jr. and Toni Dian, who has also been the treasurer of every one of Devin?s campaigns since 2001, used their cash from the sale to buy a dairy eighteen hundred miles away in Sibley, a small town in northwest Iowa where they?as well as Anthony III, Devin?s only sibling, and his wife, Lori?have lived since 2007. Devin?s uncle Gerald still owns a dairy back in Tulare, which is presumably where The Wall Street Journal?s reporter talked to Devin, and Devin is an investor in a Napa Valley winery, Alpha Omega, but his immediate family?s farm?as well as his family?is long gone.

Much of the article actually focuses on the fact that many of the farms in and around Sibley, Iowa employ undocumented workers, which seems just a wee bit hypocritical considering the strong support in the area for a President who is desperately trying to kick undocumented people out of the country, and Nunes himself, who has been a stalwart support of the Trump agenda. Lizza spends a lot of time trying to track down if the Nunes farm employs undocumented workers, and is followed around town by various Nunes family members. Other strange things happen as well, including the local newspaper suddenly disappearing a nearly decade old story after Lizza showed up in town (in part because he’d read that now gone article).

As I noted above, the original lawsuit mentions this article in passing, and the fact that some people were discussing it on Twitter, but now he’s actually sued Lizza and Esquire’s publisher, Hearst Magazines for $75 million. The lawsuit is filed in federal court in Iowa, with the same Virginia-based lawyer that Nunes has used in all of the other lawsuits he’s been filing against journalists and critics lately, and with local representation from lawyer Joseph Feller in Sibley, Iowa, whose legal practice seems to focus mostly on estate planning and agriculture law — not defamation.

Notably, Iowa has no anti-SLAPP law.

Also notably, none of the parties reside in or near Iowa. Sure, the article is about Iowa. And Nunes’ family (as we now know) lives in Iowa. But they’re not the plaintiffs. There is some argument that if there were defamation (and that seems unlikely) the “harm” to Nunes’ reputation would happen in Iowa because of this article, but it seems pretty damn clear from the article, at least, that at least most of the Iowans profiled are on Nunes’ side. It seems like there’s a much stronger case that if (again, which is unlikely) there is any actual reputational harm, it’s to those outside of Iowa. Such as Nunes’ constituents. In California.

But, notably, California has a strong anti-SLAPP law.

As for the filing itself, well, it’s about as ridiculous as you can imagine. Very little in Lizza’s Esquire piece actually talks about Devin Nunes. It focuses much more on his family and the town where his family lives. As with past Nunes lawsuits, it seems more performative for a, well, certain audience, than for actually convincing a judge. In the very first line it calls Lizza “a left-wing political journalist, well-known for his extreme bias towards Plaintiff,” highlights that Lizza lost a job at the New Yorker in a #MeToo situation, and uses that to at least, bizarrely, imply that Lizza’s trip to Sibley was to stalk female members of Nunes’ family.

Lizza was a fixture of the main stream media until December 2017, when his then-employer ? The New Yorker magazine ? summarily severed all ties and publicly terminated Lizza because of ?improper sexual conduct?…. Lizza?s name had been included in the ?Shitty Media Men? list that circulated in response to allegations published about Harvey Weinstein…. In June 2018, Esquire announced that it had hired Lizza as the magazine?s chief political correspondent…. Lizza only lasted a short time at Esquire. During his brief tenure, however, he physically traveled to Sibley, Iowa, where he lurked around Plaintiff?s grammar-school aged nieces and stalked members of Plaintiff?s family, reducing Plaintiff?s sister-in-law to tears.

Later in the complaint, it literally says:

… while he was in Sibley, Lizza stalked Plaintiff?s grammar-school aged nieces, behaved like a sex offender or pedophile cruising the local neighborhood for victims, frightened a family member to tears, and exploited a grieving mother.

Not that you can claim defamation based on what’s filed in a lawsuit, but those suggestions seem to toe much closer to the defamation line than anything in Lizza’s article.

It takes a while for the complaint to actually get around to listing what statements it believes are defamatory (spending a bunch of time pretending that each time someone linked to Lizza’s piece on Twitter it meant the story was being “republished” which is… uh… not how it works). But here’s what the complaint claims is defamatory:

The Lizza Hit Piece falsely accuses Plaintiff, the ?head of the House Intelligence Committee and one of President Trump?s biggest defenders?, of being involved in covering-up a ?secret?, to wit:

  • ?Devin Nunes?s Family Farm Is Hiding a Politically Explosive Secret?.
  • ?So why did [Plaintiff?s] parents and brother cover their tracks after quietly moving the farm to Iowa? Are they hiding something politically explosive??
  • ?Devin Nunes has a secret?.
  • ?Which brings us back to Nunes?s secret?.
  • ?So here?s the secret: The Nunes family dairy of political lore?the one where his brother and parents work?isn?t in California. It?s in Iowa?.
  • ?There?s nothing particularly strange about a congressman?s family moving. But what is strange is that the family has apparently tried to conceal the move from the public?for more than a decade?.
  • ?Why would the Nuneses, Steve King, and an obscure dairy publication all conspire to hide the fact that the congressman?s family sold its farm and moved to Iowa??
  • ?On the other hand, [Plaintiff] and his parents seemed to have concealed basic facts about the family?s move to Iowa. It was suspicious?.

Later on, the complaint lists out some other “false and defamatory statements:”

a. ?Devin Nunes has a secret?.

b. Plaintiff used his position as Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee as a ?battering ram to discredit the Russia investigation and protect Donald Trump at all costs, even if it means shredding his own reputation and the independence of the historically nonpartisan committee in the process?. c. Plaintiff ?used the Intelligence Committee to spin a baroque theory about alleged surveillance of the Trump campaign that began with a made-up Trump tweet about how ?Obama had my ?wires tapped? in Trump Tower??.

d. ?Devin; his brother, Anthony III; and his parents, Anthony Jr. and Toni Dian, sold their California farmland in 2006. Anthony Jr. and Toni Dian, who has also been the treasurer of every one of Devin?s campaigns since 2001, used their cash from the sale to buy a dairy eighteen hundred miles away in Sibley, a small town in northwest Iowa where they?as well as Anthony III, Devin?s only sibling, and his wife, Lori?have lived since 2007 ? [W]hat is strange is that the family has apparently tried to conceal the move from the public?for more than a decade?.

e. ?Why would the Nuneses, Steve King, and an obscure dairy publication all conspire to hide the fact that the congressman?s family sold its farm and moved to Iowa??

f. ?Devin Nunes was the public figure at the heart of this, and he had no financial interest in his parents? Iowa dairy operation. On the other hand, he and his parents seemed to have concealed basic facts about the family?s move to Iowa. It was suspicious. And his mom, who co-owns the Sibley dairy, is also the treasurer of his campaign?.

g. ?I laid out the facts I had uncovered in Sibley, including the intimidation of sources and the Devin Nunes angle, and asked him for advice. ?I?d tell that story,? he said. He paused and added, ?We?re a sanctuary church, if you need a place to stay. You?re safe here!??

h. ?Is it possible the Nuneses have nothing to be seriously concerned about? Of course, but I never got the chance to ask because Anthony Jr. and Representative Nunes did not respond to numerous requests for interviews.?

At least here there are some statements of fact — but it’s difficult to see how any of them are even remotely defamatory. Unless Nunes’ family didn’t sell their farm and didn’t move to Iowa, but so far no one has denied that. Statement (e) is a question and is about Steve King and “an obscure dairy publication,” not Nunes. How is that defamatory towards Nunes? Statement (g) is even less about Nunes because it’s just a quote from someone else offering to protect Lizza! And is Nunes really claiming that saying he did not respond to numerous requests for interviews is defamatory? Because… that’s not how it works.

Let’s be clear: none of that comes anywhere even remotely in the same vicinity as a legitimate defamation claim. It all seems to center around the question of whether or not Devin Nunes has a “secret.” And is he really going to argue in court that he has no secrets? And arguing over whether or not he’s kept his family moving their farm from California to Iowa a secret is not defamation either. It is broadly either opinion, opinion based on disclosed facts, or substantially true. Words like “conspire” are, at worst, rhetorical hyperbole.

In other words, this is not defamatory. This is yet another SLAPP suit by Devin Nunes, who wants to claim to be a free speech supporter while suing multiple different critics over their free speech. What a hypocrite. Yet, here we are, and because Iowa has no anti-SLAPP statute, no matter what, this is going to cost at least Hearst (and possibly Lizza) a bunch of time and money.

This is why every state needs an anti-SLAPP law and why we need a federal anti-SLAPP law. If Nunes keeps filing these bullshit lawsuits against his critics, don’t be surprised if other politicians decide that they too want to scare off critics with burdensome, if frivolous, lawsuits like this.

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Comments on “Devin Nunes Sues Again; He REALLY Doesn't Want You To Read This Article About His Family's Cow Farm In Iowa”

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49 Comments
norahc (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If I say “Devin Nunes is an asshole” three times in a mirror, will I be served with a lawsuit designed to make me shut up?

I’d rather have Beetlejuice be my Congressman than Devin Nunes. Beetlejuice had far more class and intelligence than Devin Nunes, along with a better understanding of the law. Plus Beetlejuice is way less of a hypocrite than Devin Nunes.

Oh crap….I said both names three times.

Devin Nunes, Devin Nunes, Devin Nunes.

There, I was able to put idiot back.

This comment has been deemed funny by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: If I say “Devin Nunes is an asshole” three times in a mi

  • If I say “Devin Nunes is an asshole” three times in a mirror, will I be served with a lawsuit designed to make me shut up? *

As an arsehole, I find the comparison to Nunes to be defamatory. See you in court, buster.

Signed,
An arsehole.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

A plaintiff in a defamation lawsuit generally must prove the defendant…

  • expressed an unprivileged, false statement of fact about the plaintiff;
  • caused material harm to the plaintiff by expressing that false statement of fact; and
  • acted either negligently or with actual malice

…to have a shot at winning the case. What, then, did the reporter say in their article that rises to the level of defamation? And if nothing rises to the level of defamation, for what reason should that reporter face “consequences”?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Gary (profile) says:

Re: Oh, those folks...

They do not however have freedom from consequences.

Getting sued when you haven’t said anything defamatory is not a normal consequence of speech ya racist bastard.

Suing people who point out that you don’t really have a family farm is not how one upholds free speech in this country. Maybe in Trump Country it is acceptable?

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Oh, those folks that attacked him have free speech

Unless we’re looking at actual defamation here (note that none of the actual facts stated appear to be in dispute), then Nunes is not “well wishing his rights to pursue them” in this fashion.

Please show me how this is in any way defamatory, using only the statements specifically mentioned in the complaint as alleged defamation. And explain how Iowa is the appropriate venue here.

Does Devin not have any secrets at all? Don’t we all?

Did Nunes not use his position as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee to bring up the idea that Trump was surveilled during the 2016 Campaign and to attempt to discredit the Russia investigations?

Did Nunes’ family not sell their farm and move to Iowa? And if they didn’t, is that actually damaging?

How is a question about people who aren’t Devin Nunes defamatory against Devin Nunes?

How is Devin Nunes defamed by statement g, at all? He isn’t even mentioned at all there. Some guy in a church said that he’d “run that story”, which only means it’s newsworthy and credible, that the church is a “sanctuary church”, and offered to let the journalist stay there. How is Devin Nunes defamed by any of that?

And is Nunes saying that he or his family did respond to calls for a response? Because he doesn’t offer any information that suggests he did.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

"A March story in National Review is emblematic. It describes how Nunes’s family emigrated from the Azores in Portugal to California’s Central Valley, “a fertile, sunny Eden,” and how the family “worked and saved enough money to buy a 640-acre farm outside Tulare.” "

A real rags to riches story of immigrants who came to America seeking fame and fortune, worked his hands to the bone earning enough to purchase a 640 acre farm in Calf (yeah – uh huh). Had a son who later become a congressional member who hates immigrants.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Much of the article actually focuses on the fact that many of the farms in and around Sibley, Iowa employ undocumented workers, which seems just a wee bit hypocritical considering the strong support in the area for a President who is desperately trying to kick undocumented people out of the country, and Nunes himself, who has been a stalwart support of the Trump agenda.

No, Mike, unless Nunes employs illegals on his own farm, what other people in the county are doing does not make him a hypocrite at all.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
MO'B says:

Re: Re:

Try reading the actual article, that’s EXACTLY what Nune’s family does, like everyone else in the region, hire illegal immigrants as cheap labor to work their farms.
Also in the article was some interesting mentions of how this is rabid Trump country, but they all get wishy-washy when confronted with their need for this cheap labor pool. They are actively supporting twits who would run every illegal out of the country which would drive most of these Trumpkins out of the farming business. I suspect the reason for the move to Iowa was this whole thing would be far less visible than if they were still in Cali.

So the hypocrisy label sticks but with Republican tears for glue!

https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a23471864/devin-nunes-family-farm-iowa-california/

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
JoeCool (profile) says:

Change of venue?

Seems like it should be easy to get this moved to California since nothing at all in this ties it to Iowa. Unless Nunes has asked the local judge for a favor for his family, of course. Might need to take this to a higher level before it gets moved… which is the point. I don’t think Nunes believes he has a prayer of any of these suits getting even as far as trial. It’s simply to make his opponent spend money and waste time.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

I don’t think Nunes believes he has a prayer of any of these suits getting even as far as trial. It’s simply to make his opponent spend money and waste time.

Yeah, pretty much. It’s all about denigrating the “lamestream media” (a.k.a. “the enemy of the people”, at least to Trump and his supporters) and attempting to chill the speech of others. That he gets to play a victim for the sake of the right-wing grift machine is a side bonus for him.

Speaking of attention-seeking lawsuits: Shiva Ayyadurai probably attempted the same tactic with his lawsuit against Techdirt. And look at what that approach got him. ????

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

'Only I am allowed to say terrible things!'

behaved like a sex offender or pedophile cruising the local neighborhood for victims

Throws yet another tantrum that people said ‘mean’ things that are either opinion, hyperbole, or facts, and yet in the same lawsuit throws out a comparison vastly worse than anything the reporter said.

As if he wasn’t a big enough hypocritical scumbag as it were for abusing the courts for PR and fundrasing by filing multiple SLAPP suits for personal gain. Be nice if the judge involved realized they were being used, sent the case over to california, and Nunes got anti-SLAPPed down hard for this, because at this point I’m starting to think that this has become his new favorite hobby.

Anonymous coward says:

Discovery

If you are employing illegal immigrants…. discovery is problematic.
In a libel lawsuit that says you were defamed by saying you employing illegal immigrants, discovery could uncover some very inconvenient facts….
David Nunes must be very confident that his family farm does not employ illegal immigrants.

bob says:

Re: Re: Re: Discovery

I agree with you, but never underestimate the power of stupid people to backstab themselves.

Since the lawsuit doesn’t mention the undocumented workers the lawyers might be able to keep it from the discovery process. But really all this lawsuit is doing is Streisand-ing the facts found in the Esquire piece.

I never would have known (or cared enough to put forth the effort to learn) about his family farm situation or the use of immigrants in Iowa without Nunes. Now the world is just a little more informed of how hypocritical the politicians from that area are.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Discovery

In a libel lawsuit that says you were defamed by saying you employing illegal immigrants, discovery could uncover some very inconvenient facts….

This raises a good point. The lawsuit DOES NOT MAKE ANY CLAIMS regarding the potential employment of undocumented workers. So that’s not even an issue that would be up for discovery. Interesting…

R/O/G/S says:

you left out the off duty cops

Oh, please stop with this ridiculous gang stalking conspiracy stuff already.

re:…and is followed around town by various Nunes family members. Other strange things happen as well, including the local newspaper suddenly disappearing a nearly decade old story….

-strange, bizarre delusions from a PTSD scarred left-wing #fakeraper/ victim of the (Vatican/Israeli sponsored)#Metoo dont count as fact, just because some ditz claimed he has an overeager putz problem. He should attend Sex Addicts meetings, and say sorry to the girls he groped, instead of stalking poor, helpless milionaires.

-reporters followed around by people in white SUVs? Ridiculous, classic paranoia. He even admits it in the article

-targeted by the subjects family? Family is in on it? A CLASSIC delusion, type 1S error of attribution. Silly Mike-the reporter targeted THEM FIRST

-Disappeared news articles? Listen, in case you havent heard, small town newspapers fold at a rate of 13 or more per year. They cant afford filing cabinets

Really, stop POLLUTING THE INTERNET with these ADL sponsored delusions.

/s

In reality, this story is a ROGS BINGO.

R/O/G/S says:

oh...Happy Yom Kippur

Scapegoats: its whats for dinner in Azazel!

most intriguing part of the religious rituals is the mention of a goat over which the high priest confesses the sins of the Israelites and transfers the sins from the Temple to the goat. These sins are the most serious kind: they are intentional sins (sins you deliberately and brazenly commit).

“The contamination caused by intentional sins can’t be cleaned up, it can only be moved from one place to another,” said Feldman. After the transfer of sins to the goat, to which was attached a red yarn collar, the goat was dispatched into the wilderness to “Azazel.”

…stop polluting the internet indeed.

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