Reporter Sues DOJ To See If It Is Trying To Help Devin Nunes Unmask @DevinCow Twitter Account

from the is-the-fbi-investigating-a-satirical-cow? dept

As I'm pretty sure most of you know, Rep. Devin Nunes has been filing a ton of blatant SLAPP lawsuits trying to silence criticism and mockery of him, as well as critical reporting. Kind of ironic for a guy who co-sponsored a bill to discourage frivolous lawsuits and who has regularly presented himself as a free speech supporter. What kicked off those lawsuits, somewhat incredibly, was a satirical Twitter account, @DevinCow (mocking Devin Nunes for repeatedly holding himself out as a "dairy farmer" from Tulare California when it turns out his family farm moved to Iowa years ago).

You may also know that at the time Nunes sued the satirical cow for making fun of him online, the @DevinCow account had a grand total of 1,204 followers. Within a couple days, @DevinCow had 400k followers and had surpassed Nunes' himself. Today the Cow has 772k followers and is one of the most interesting Twitter accounts online, with a huge pasture of followers. Pretty incredible.

What a lot of people don't realize is that the case against the cow is still going on, and Nunes and his lawyer, Steven Biss, have constantly gone to fairly extreme lengths just try to figure out who is behind the Cow account. The craziest of all was that Biss used a totally unrelated case, that did not involve Nunes, and then abused his subpoena powers to ask Twitter to reveal who was behind @DevinCow, despite the Cow being totally unrelated to the case. Biss and Nunes made up some nonsense about how the cow was connected, but it was clearly ridiculous, and a judge rejected it.

Of course, that raised lots of concerns about whether or not Nunes might abuse other methods to try to uncover the cow. Freelance journalist Shawn Musgrave filed a FOIA request with the Justice Department and the FBI to see if Nunes might have sought to use either organization to try to uncover the Cow's identity. After all, Nunes was (incredibly) the chair of the House Intelligence Committee and would have greater access to the FBI and its surveillance tools than just about any other Congressional Representative. Musgrave made it abundantly clear in his FOIA that he was not seeking to identify the Cow and did not want any information that might reveal the Cow's identity. He just wanted to know if the DOJ or the FBI had sought to uncover the Cow's identity.

However, the DOJ and FBI have failed to comply, so now Musgrave is suing the DOJ to try to get them to actually properly respond to the FOIA request.

As a result of the repeated efforts by Cong. Nunes and his legal team to unmask @DevinCow—of which the above instances are merely examples—Musgrave filed two FOIA requests—with the permission of @DevinCow’s owner—to ascertain the degree to which FBI and DOJ—with or without Cong. Nunes’s involvement—have attempted to identify the anonymous owner of the @DevinCow Twitter account.

The lawsuit explains what the FOIA request sought:

On 9 November 2020, Musgrave submitted to FBI a request for five categories of records: (1) all main file records about the @DevinCow Twitter account; (2) all cross-references in the Central Records System about the @DevinCow Twitter account; (3) all internal emails or other correspondence records created or maintained by the Office of Congressional Affairs mentioning the @DevinCow Twitter account; (4) all emails in the FBI email system(s) or personal email folders on personal computers used by the Washington Field Office and San Francisco Field Office mentioning the @DevinCow Twitter account; and (5) all emails in the FBI email system(s) or personal email folders on personal computers used by the Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch mentioning the @DevinCow Twitter account.

Musgrave added, “Please note that we do not wish to know the identity of the owner of the @DevinCow account, so the FBI should automatically redact any personally identifying information about that individual while releasing the contextual information which would show that PII was redacted. We are only interested in records discussing the account and/or the possible identification of its owner, not in the identity itself.”

Just a week later (which is insanely fast for FBI FOIA requests), the FBI was giving a Glomar response that it can "neither confirm nor deny" the existence of such records, and also claiming it was doing so to protect the privacy of third party individuals. But, of course, that's nonsense, since the request made it abundantly clear that the FBI should redact any such information. Musgrave appealed:

“It is nonsensical to issue a (b)(6) Glomar response to a request for records about an anonymous Twitter account, especially when the request has formally indicated that we have no interest in learning the identity of the user.”

On February 1st, the FBI rejected the appeal and stuck with its Glomar response.

So now, Musgrave has sued (with some very good FOIA lawyers) to try to force the FBI/DOJ to actually respond to the FOIA request for real. Should be an interesting case to follow.

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Filed Under: devin nunes, devincow, doj, fbi, foia, free speech, satire, shawn musgrave, transparency


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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 5 Mar 2021 @ 12:48pm

    Nice to see our tax dollars at work protecting a member of Congress from people finding how much he has abused his position to unmask a theoretical cow that mocked him.

    500K dead...
    Nunes is STILL trying to unmask someone who he thinks said mean things on twitter.
    Doing it across the country, because forum shopping isn't bad if you have power.
    Funding it with undisclosed resources that really really should have the FBI asking questions about who is buying his favor.
    That improperly have wasted the time & money of the court & his targets not to mention attempting to execute endruns around the law...

    I mean if a regular person pulled this shit they'd be in jail, but be a member of Congress & you too can funnel dark money from somewhere to a lawyer of questionable ability & ethics, to just force people who don't agree with them to pay the cost of defending themselves against lawsuits with no merit at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Tanner Andrews (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 1:36am

      Re:

      I mean if a regular person pulled this shit they'd be in jail

      Probably not. They may run up a large legal bill which they have to pay from their own resources. Large corps and wealthy but think-skinned individuals can manage this. Congressmen can use donations to fund their portions, and may be able to pervert the DOJ to assist with the discovery, but that is mostly a question of who pays, not what [stunts are] being pulled.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 5 Mar 2021 @ 12:55pm

    The DOJ is just ruminating over the FOIA request.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 5 Mar 2021 @ 1:03pm

    Basically Devin Nunes:

    "Who will rid me of this meddlesome cow?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 5 Mar 2021 @ 1:14pm

    So, yes then

    If they weren't helping him try to unmask the account then there would have been no reason not to simply say so, that they went with a glomar sounds like pretty solid confirmation that Nunes at the very least tried to get them to do so and they're trying to cover for him.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 6 Mar 2021 @ 2:47pm

      Re: So, yes then

      If they weren't helping him try to unmask the account then there would have been no reason not to simply say so

      I'm not so sure that "because F you, that's why" is not a good enough reason for the FBI to deny a FOIA request.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    urza9814 (profile), 5 Mar 2021 @ 1:40pm

    Fucking fantastic...

    So, our nation's top law enforcement officials can neither confirm nor deny that they were involved in behavior that was at the very least extremely unethical, if not outright criminal.

    Yeah...even if they didn't do it, the fact that they can't give a straight 'no' is extremely concerning...or at least it ought to be in any nation whose laws actually mean anything...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Mar 2021 @ 4:26pm

      Re: Fucking fantastic...

      I think it would be interesting to force the FBI to reveal WHY they "can neither confirm nor deny". Is it in relation to some open case? If so, on what basis?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Bluegrass Geek (profile), 7 Mar 2021 @ 7:15am

        Re: Re: Fucking fantastic...

        It'll be their standard "we don't have to resources to dig into this" reply, because they don't want to be bothered.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Mar 2021 @ 2:04pm

    Translation

    "We cannot confirm nor deny" = Yes we are trying to unmask DevinCow with the help of YOUR tax dollars.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Pixelation, 5 Mar 2021 @ 6:09pm

      Re: Translation

      " Yes we are trying to unmask DevinCow with the help of YOUR tax dollars."...

      And, we are trying to protect Nunes.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    smbryant (profile), 5 Mar 2021 @ 2:39pm

    Am I reading this right?

    From the article:

    ...Musgrave filed two FOIA requests—with the permission of @DevinCow’s owner—to ascertain...

    So Musgrave is stating that he knows who owns this account?

    That seems like a good (and maybe unnecessary?) way to attract attention for a certain thin-skinned representative.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Mar 2021 @ 2:53pm

    also claiming it was doing so to protect the privacy of third party individuals.

    I.e., Devin Nunes et al.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 5 Mar 2021 @ 4:35pm

    Given all we know about how thin skinned Mr. Nunes is, and how the republicans love to use the machinery against their perceived enemies, I'm sure he was filing requests with the DOJ on a daily basis, asking for investigations into people who looked at him the wrong way on the street.

    And given all we know about Bill Barr, he likely complied.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lucan Vorlov, 6 Mar 2021 @ 2:46pm

    Spook: A little sleight of hand methinks...

    I'm afraid the readers are misconstruing what the Spooks have said. You see, they're not at all concerned about protecting the identity of the owner of @DevinCow.

    Its the identity of the people who have demanded that the Fed waste tax payer's money to quietly investigate and determine who Devin's 'heckler' is, that the Spooks need to protect.

    Even if its just Devin, its still a big PR loss if he gets lime-lighted for his thin- skinned response, wasting tax payer's money.

    So, S.O.P., the spooks have been ordered to use the Glomar to protect Devin's connection to any investigation. That's why the response was so fast. By stating this fact in just the right way, they can tell the truth while actually lying. Cool eh. I bet they giggled like school girls for hours after they sent the first response.

    Bullshit comes so easy to spooks and their handlers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 7 Mar 2021 @ 11:56am

    Given the bullcrap that Nunes and Biss have tossed around, responsive records should be pretty easy to find based upon their odor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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