Trump DOJ subpoenaed Twitter for identity behind Nunes parody account

Greg Nash

The Trump administration subpoenaed Twitter for information on who was operating an account parodying Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a close ally of the former president, according to court documents unsealed on Monday.

A federal judge unsealed a motion from Twitter filed on March 10 to quash the subpoena that was issued in November. In the filing, Twitter argued it was concerned the government was aiding Nunes’s legal efforts to attack and unmask his online critics and said the subpoena violated the First Amendment.

“It appears to Twitter that the Subpoena may be related to Congressman Devin Nunes’s repeated efforts to unmask individuals behind parody accounts critical of him,” the motion reads. “His efforts to suppress critical speech are as well-publicized as they are unsuccessful.”

The subpoena sought identifying information from Twitter about the account @NunesAlt. There is little public information about the court proceedings around the subpoena. It’s not clear whether Twitter ever complied with the demand or if it was ultimately quashed by a federal judge.

It’s also unclear if the Biden administration’s Justice Department stood by the subpoena after Trump left office. A Justice Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond when asked for comment on Monday.

According to the unsealed motion, the subpoena was issued along with a gag order prohibiting Twitter from revealing or talking about the document.

“Twitter is committed to protecting the freedom of expression for those who use our service,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement Monday. “We have a strong track record and take seriously the trust placed in us to work to protect the private information of the people on Twitter.”

Twitter declined to say whether it had complied with the subpoena.

A Nunes spokesman did not immediately respond when asked for comment on Monday.

Nunes has repeatedly tried to attack his critics in the courts, filing at least nine lawsuits in recent years against journalists, social media companies and political research firms.

In 2019, the California Republican sued Twitter, a political strategist and the parody accounts @DevinNunesMom and @DevinCow, accusing them of defamation. Last year, a judge removed Twitter from the suit, saying it could not be held liable for statements made by third parties on its platform.

When the U.S. Attorney’s office in D.C. issued its Twitter subpoena in November, the company responded by asking for information on the federal prosecutors’ investigation into the account and raised concerns about Nunes’ history of seeking legal retaliation against his online critics, according to the motion.

A federal prosecutor told the social media company that the government was investigating whether the @NunesAlt violated a federal law against interstate violent threats.

The account criticized the subpoena in a post Monday afternoon that included a link to a fundraiser for its legal efforts to fight Nunes’ various lawsuits.

“There’s nothing remarkable about me,” the tweet reads. “I’m a basic smartass with a Twitter account. So then why am I being sued by a US congressman? Why would the DOJ ever target me? Is it the mean tweets and bad memes? It’s not about me or this silly account. It’s about silencing all of us.”

Updated at 6:06 p.m.

Tags California Devin Nunes Justice Department Lawsuit parody account Social media Twitter
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