When and how did you find out that Nunes was suing you for defamation? Was there any contact prior to the filing of the lawsuit?
I was sitting down to a nice chicken dinner that my mother had helpfully made so that neither my husband nor I would have to cook on a busy weekday, and my phone started ringing. I try to apply a pretty strict no phones rule during dinner, but I answered Kate Irby?s call. She was calling for comment on the first lawsuit ? the $250 million one in Henrico. Unsurprisingly, I didn?t have a comment.
The only contact I can recall having had with anyone in Nunes? orbit prior to the lawsuit being announced was on the days I delivered the shoes and T-shirt to his office. When I went to the bathroom before filming the shoes delivery, I encountered one of his female staff in the bathroom. She?d seen me getting ready outside his office, on my read she knew exactly what was going on, and on my read she seemed to think it was funny. And then obviously, I handed the shoes and the T-shirt off to people in his office, I assume staff assistants or maybe interns. They were very polite and professional.
I never got any cease and desist type letters, no asks to delete or revise tweets, no requests from his office or his campaign or any mutual contacts or acquaintances to stop anything I was doing or to indicate he had any issue with anything I did in 2018. Or frankly ever. He still hits me up for campaign contributions, too, by mail and by email. He did through a bunch of 2018, also, even after I?d been very obviously and publicly criticizing him.
What was your initial reaction to the lawsuit(s)?
First off, let?s be clear: While I?m a tall, but not a big girl, I like my food and I have a big appetite. So if you get between me and dinner, I?m going to be at least a little pissed off. That?s definitely his biggest win in terms of causing me any pain or distress in the course of this process: He got between me and food.
But beyond that, my reaction was fairly muted. If I remember correctly, there was a delay in his lawyer filing the relevant paperwork so initially, I wasn?t sure if it was real or just something he said he was going to do but wouldn?t follow through on. I recall giving my lawyer a heads up that night. I also recall thinking ?wow, this guy just really elevated my public profile, that?s interesting,? that he was probably about to experience the Streisand effect, and wondering why he was so intent on drawing attention to things that he claimed to think were so massively damaging to his reputation.
Have you had any prior interactions with Rep. Nunes?
Not that I can remember, though it?s totally plausible that I would have met him at some California GOP event somewhere in the course of my career, and equally plausible that I might have ?slighted” him by not recognizing him or treating him as super important or cool or like someone I wanted to grab a drink with. Someone mentioned that possibility to me not long after news of the first lawsuit broke. The truth is, I?m not very deferential to politicians, and I don?t really care about socializing with people who aren?t my husband, my kid, or my close friends or family.
Of all the people criticizing Nunes (and it’s a long list), why do you think he focused so much of his attention on your tweets?
It?s hard to say. I?d love to inhabit Devin Nunes? mind for just 30 minutes and see what goes on in there, because I?m guessing it?s fascinating, but I really can?t speculate as to his thought processes. I don?t personally think I can possibly be this interesting, but I guess I am to him.
I guess, for the record, are you either Devin Nunes’ Cow or Mom (and, by that I mean, the satirical accounts on Twitter, not his actual cow or biological mother)?
I am not, and I would note that it?s possible all of this results from a massive misunderstanding. I make a lot of ?your mom? jokes on Twitter, so I guess one could reasonably think I might choose to impersonate someone?s mom as a trolling exercise. And I tweet a lot about animals and like animals, including cows, so again, maybe in some universe it makes sense that I might spend time tweeting as a fake anonymous bovine. However, I?m neither the cow nor the mom, and I don?t know who either of them is.
You’ve stated publicly that this is an attack on your free speech. Can you describe the impact that this lawsuit has had on your public statements? Do you worry about additional lawsuits?
I?m always cautious to say Nunes is using litigation as a cudgel to try to stifle my free speech, rather than saying he is stifling my free speech. It?s my constitutionally-guaranteed right to speak about politics, politicians and other public figures.
I do crack a lot more ?call your lawyer? jokes on Twitter than I used to.
I will also say that most people probably don?t have the same resources to resist a suit like this, and might self-censor and go silent like a guy who?s just had his tongue cut out ? or worse yet, offer to settle to make it go away, and thereby financially reward the plaintiff. In my opinion, these lawsuits are deeply objectionable in terms of undermining a key liberty underpinning our democracy and if successful, the precedent they will set will absolutely be used against people Nunes considers friends and allies in future.
With regard to additional lawsuits, I would say ?worry? is a strong word. Nothing is certain in life, but Nunes does seem rather occupied with suing other people and entities at least during this particular period.
In your own response to the first lawsuit, you argued that California is the proper venue, rather than Virginia, where you used to live. Why do you believe that to be the case?
I think the filing lays this out pretty clearly and I?d urge people to read it, but here?s the Cliffs Notes version: This is a California lawsuit about a California congressman and allegations contained in another California lawsuit about conduct that took place in California. I could go on, but of course, our filing exists online for all to read and that?s a better explanation of my position here than a quickie answer will ever provide.
Why do you think Nunes filed his lawsuit in Virginia, rather than his home state of California?
Again, as much as I?m sure Devin Nunes? brain is a fascinating place, I?ve never visited it so I just can?t say. Other people have clearly suggested he?s engaged in litigation forum-shopping. From my standpoint, I mostly think it?s the ultimate irony that a sitting government official who has sworn an oath to support and defend the Constitution ? all of it, not just the bits he likes ? is suing me to try to stifle my free speech in the home state of James Madison, Father of the Constitution, who wrote the First Amendment and said the censorial power rests in the people over the government. He?s the government here ? literally, a sitting congressman and ranking member of a House committee ? and I?m the people.
So far, the court has rejected the venue argument. What is your reaction to that decision?
I respect the judge’s decision and I?m grateful for his careful consideration of the issues, though I personally see the law differently for the reasons set forth in my filings.
California has a notably stronger anti-SLAPP law to protect speakers from these kinds of intimidation lawsuits than Virginia has. What is your opinion of anti-SLAPP laws? Do you think we need a federal anti-SLAPP law?
I think all fifty states should have strong anti-SLAPP laws on the books. They protect free speech and allow citizens to hold the government and politicians accountable. Frankly, even California?s should probably be strengthened, perhaps to allow defendants hit with SLAPP cases to claim some additional amount to compensate not just for legal costs and fees but also for wastage of their personal and professional time and any associated emotional or physical distress.
In general, I?m a 10th amendment person, so my preference would be to see all fifty states independently put strong anti-SLAPP laws on the books rather than pass a single federal law.
That said, a federal law in this case would clearly be supporting a clear, federal civil liberty guaranteed by the US Constitution, so I can see the argument for a federal law in this instance also.
The bottom line here though is that free speech is under attack from a literal, sitting government official and I think that would have Madison rolling in his grave and should have everyone in the country, regardless of their philosophy or ideology, jumping up and down and screaming ?no!? in Nunes? general direction. In my opinion, what he is doing is both an absurdity and an anti-liberty travesty that could really backfire on people like President Trump if he is ultimately successful. Think of it this way, if the President were worth $2.5 billion, it would only take ten lawsuits like the first one Nunes filed against me and Trump is bankrupted. And Trump spends a lot of time mouthing off on Twitter.
What has surprised you the most about the process of being sued? What is something that people who haven’t gone through this process might not realize?
Two things. First, separate to needing strong anti-SLAPP laws everywhere, how desperately we need loser pays tort reform in this country. I was never a big tort reform person, though I am told there is a time when Nunes championed federal tort reform legislation. Anyway, I?ve come around on that. Second, how slow the process is. The American legal system is definitely not what it is depicted as being on TV and in films.
Do you find it even a tiny bit ironic that Devin Nunes sponsored a bill to stop frivolous lawsuits? And that he voted for a House amendment “to express a sense of Congress that free speech should be protected” just 12 days before suing you for your tweets?
Ah, see, there you go ? you evidently are familiar with his congressional record on tort reform.
I actually wasn?t aware of his vote on that House amendment or the timing of it, but thanks for the tip.
As for irony, suffice to say I think there are a lot of things that are ironic about various political and policy positions that Nunes holds. I also think it?s ironic that he?s suing me for $400 million total and keeps sending me fundraising mail and emails. I guess he?s very eager to drain my bank account one way or another.