The Department of Justice’s attempt to unmask the Twitter account @NunesAlt, a parody account that mocks Representative Devin Nunes, raises questions of First Amendment violations and overreaches of DOJ authority. The public deserves to know more about attempts to uncover the user and DOJ policies around subpoenas for social media communications providers.
Recently unsealed grand jury court filings from November 2020 indicate that the DOJ obtained a grand jury subpoena to identify the person behind the @NunesAlt Twitter account. Twitter opposed the subpoena on First Amendment grounds and argued the subpoena appeared to be part of a larger effort by Nunes to unmask users behind parody accounts critical of him. Later investigation revealed that the subpoena may have stemmed from an online threat to Senator Mitch McConnell, and not from Nunes. DOJ withdrew the subpoena on March 17, 2021, but questions still remain about the circumstances of the initial attempts to unmask.
CREW has requested communications relating to the @NunesAlt Twitter account between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia (DC USAO) and U.S. Capitol Police, DOJ, McConnell and his staff, or Nunes and his staff. CREW has also requested any tips related to the account and any documents related to the November 2020 subpoena. Finally, CREW has requested any DOJ or DC USAO policies or procedures related to unmasking subpoenas.
The DOJ during the Trump administration was notorious for defending Trump’s friends and allies and going after perceived enemies or people who appeared to threaten his political agenda. The public should know if the DOJ’s apparent attempts to intimidate a Twitter critic of Nunes, who is a close Trump ally, were part of a greater trend of Trump favoritism.