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.