November 19, 2019

John Avlon's Reality Check segment takes a look at Devin Nunes and his habit of frivolous lawsuits.

" 'Lemmings with suicide vests,' that's what Congressman Devin Nunes called colleagues who were charging towards the government shutdown cliff in 2013. But Nunes has been singing a different tune in the Trump era. His opening remarks during the impeachment inquiry was a lemming-like litany of Trump talking points," Avlon said.

They accused the Trump campaign of colluding with Russia when they themselves were colluding with Russia, now they accuse President Trump of malfeasance when they themselves are culpable.

"It's an example of how tone comes from the top. And that's also what we've been seeing in an absurd string of lawsuits against journalists and social media accounts. Nunes trickling down to one of his former staffers working in the Trump White House. You may be aware of Donald Trump's long history of suing journalists, including an architecture critic for dissing one of his building designs, and journalist Tim O'Brien for saying he was not a billionaire. Recently the Trump family sued a Maryland blogger for comments about Melania and threatened us at CNN with a suit that never materialized.

"Taking a page out of Trump's playbook, Nunes sued two parody twitter accounts, including one claiming to be his cow (yes, you heard that right), as well as Twitter itself and a renegade Republican operative for more than a quarter of a billion dollars, and if that seems ridiculous, that's because it is. The suit claimed among other things that Devin Nunes Cow published hundreds of false and defamatory statements against the the congressman, along with dollops of barnyard humor. An account called Devin Nunes Mom falsely stated that the congressman was voted most likely to commit treason in high school. Talk about snowflakes," Avlon said.

"Self-evidently absurd satire against public figures is protected by the First Amendment. This is also especially ironic because Nunes once sponsored the Discouraging Frivolous Lawsuits Act, but there is a serious side to this absurdity, because he is also suing two individuals personally, Republican operative Liz Mair in the $200 million lawsuit and reporter Ryan Lizza who's also a CNN contributor for 75 million. Nunes brought the suits in Iowa and Virginia rather than his native California because they don't have strong protections against frivolous lawsuits.

"Just yesterday his lawyer filed another odd lawsuit on behalf of Cash Patel, a White House staffer who once worked for Nunes. At issue is a political article detailing Patel's influence on Ukraine of President Trump. he says he never supplied any materials to the president and for this he is suing for $25 million.

"A reasonable person might conclude that Patel's case may have been compromised by subsequent -- no evidence experience was his principle ukraine adviser.

"You could conclude that this, like the other lawsuits, is intended to have a chilling effect on journalism tying up reporters, publishers and critics with potentially crippling legal costs. After all, as Donald Trump told the Washington Post looking back on his suit against O'Brien, 'I spent a couple of bucks on legal fees. They spent a whole lot more.

"' I did it to make O'Brien's life miserable, which I'm happy about,' and that's your reality check."

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