If Devin Nunes’s family is trying to stop Americans from reading Ryan Lizza’s September 2018 Esquire article Devin Nunes’s Family Farm Is Hiding a Politically Explosive Secret, forcing it back into the news cycle every three months is a weird way to go about it.
If the California congressman and his family hadn’t hired razzledazzle libelslander lawyer Stephen Biss to sue Lizza and Hearst Media for defamation, we probably wouldn’t find ourselves discussing the article at three-month intervals every time the court issues another exasperated ruling explaining that a defamation claim requires specific statements of fact which are both false and harmful.
But they did, and we are, and now the Nunes clan will have to put up or shut up and answer questions under oath if they want to keep this BS lawsuit alive.
It’s an odd result for a family that refused to speak to Lizza when he showed up in Sibley, Iowa two years ago asking questions about the NuStar dairy farm. Once it became clear that Lizza was interested in undocumented immigrants employed by dairy farmers, he found himself kicked out of restaurants and tailed by members of the Nunes family. The congressman’s brother Anthony Nunes, III, told Lizza, “I’m taking your license plate down and reporting you to the sheriff,” adding later ““If I see you again, I’m gonna get upset.”
While other residents of the town suggested that the Nunes dairy farm could not feasibly turn a profit without undocumented labor — “It’s next to impossible … There’s no dang way.” — no one in the family would speak to the reporter.
But now, if they really intend to prosecute this defamation suit, they’re going to have to do it. And under oath.
U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams had already dismissed the congressman’s suit last month. And Friday he did the same for every count of the family’s claim save one arising from Lizza’s assertion that “NuStar did indeed rely, at least in part, on undocumented labor.”
“Falsely accusing someone of knowingly employing undocumented workers is accusing someone of committing a crime,” Judge Williams said. “To falsely accuse a person of an indictable crime is defamatory.”
So now, if they want to proceed with discovery, Anthony Jr. and Anthony III can sit for a deposition on labor practices at their family business and whether they ever knowingly or unwittingly employed undocumented immigrants.
Which can hardly have been what the family intended. Lizza wrote:
I learned that Anthony Jr. was seemingly starting to panic. The next day, the 2009 Dairy Star article about NuStar, the one that made me think the Nuneses were hiding something and that had led me to Sibley in the first place, was removed from the Dairy Star’s website. Anthony Jr., I was told, had called the newspaper and demanded that the editors take the nine-year-old story down. They relented. The article wasn’t captured by the Internet Archive, which provides cached versions of billions of web pages, and it can no longer be found anywhere online. According to someone who talked to him that day, Anthony Jr. allegedly said that he was hiring a lawyer and that he was convinced that his dairy would soon be raided by ICE.
And now, having allowed Congressman Nunes to talk them into this idiotic lawsuit, they’ve painted themselves into a corner where they actually have to describe their farm’s hiring practices on the record if they want to establish the falsity of Lizza’s claim.
Karma’s a bitch, ain’t she?
Memorandum Opinion and Order (Nunes et al v. Lizza et al, No. 20-CV-4003-CJW-MAR (N. D. Iowa Sept. 11, 2020))
Elizabeth Dye lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.