A newly unsealed court filing reveals an attempt by the Justice Department, in the waning days of the Trump administration, to force Twitter to identify the person (or people) behind a parody account that poked fun at Republican congressman and Trump sycophant Devin Nunes (CA). On November 24, 2020, Twitter was served with a subpoena demanding the name of whoever was running @NunesAlt, along with a gag order prohibiting the company from going public about the request.
“After receiving the Subpoena, Twitter’s counsel promptly contacted the Assistant United States Attorney who had issued it,” according to the filing. “Twitter’s counsel explained Congressman Nunes’s history of litigation and the Congressman’s numerous prior attempts to unmask accounts critical of the Congressman.” In the past two years, Nunes and his campaign committee have brought no fewer than nine lawsuits against various entities for criticizing him, two of which were other Twitter parodies, @DevinCow and @DevinNunesMom, it continues. “In each of these cases, Congressman Nunes sought damages for what he believes were targeted attacks against his reputation, by being called names such as a ‘treasonous cowpoke’ on Twitter, and sought to unmask anonymous commenters critical of his job as a politician,” the filing says. The feds tried to tell Twitter that it was looking into “potential violations of 18 U.S.C. Section 875(c) (threatening communications in interstate commerce).” But the government wouldn’t—or couldn’t—provide any examples or further information.
In response, Twitter argued, “As the custodian entrusted with the private identifying information that the government seeks, Twitter is concerned the Subpoena may not be supported by a legitimate law enforcement purpose, and that therefore, there cannot be any need—let alone a compelling need—for the government to unmask the user.”