Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee and staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, has long been the subject of unrelenting attacks from elected Democrats, partisan operatives, and left-leaning journalists.
Following in the footsteps of Trump, Nunes has been determined to fight back against the onslaught, and he has done so by way of several lawsuits that he has filed against a pair of media outlets, Twitter, and two social media users who allegedly defamed and harassed him. But now, a watchdog group has filed an ethics complaint against Nunes over how he’s is paying for those lawsuits, The Hill reports.
Where’s the money coming from?
A purportedly nonpartisan watchdog group known as the Campaign Legal Center filed the complaint against Nunes with the Office of Congressional Ethics. The complaint said that in all likelihood, Nunes’ annual salary of $174,000 will not be sufficient to cover the legal expenses of multiple lawsuits.
Given that, the group alleged that Nunes is either receiving free or discounted legal assistance, or else has a contingency agreement worked out with an attorney in which the lawyer doesn’t get paid anything until after a suit is won and an award is granted, at which point the attorney would collect a percentage of the award as payment for their services.
Both of those options, the group says, would have to be disclosed for transparency purposes. But Nunes has apparently yet to file any such disclosure, known as a Legal Expense Fund, with the Office of Congressional Ethics.
“Representative Nunes’s overt involvement with the highly-publicized lawsuits threatens to establish a precedent that the Legal Expense Fund regulations no longer apply to Members,” the group warned in its complaint.
“Although Representative Nunes is entitled to legal representation and he may pursue any legal action to protect and defend his interests, he must comply with House rules,” the complaint continued. “An [Office of Congressional Ethics] investigation will preserve Representative Nunes’s legal right to counsel while upholding well-established House rules and precedent.”
The Hill noted in its report that Nunes has filed lawsuits against CNN and McClatchy over what he described as blatantly false stories published to defame him. He has also filed a suit against Twitter for enabling two specific users who have constantly harassed him on the platform and spread provably false allegations against him.
A letter to Dems
Representing Nunes in those lawsuits is a Virginia-based attorney named Steven Biss, who has also written letters to at least two Democrat politicians — Rep. Ted Lieu (CA) and Nunes’ 2017 challenger Andrew Janz (CA) — demanding apologies for false statements leveled against the Republican congressman.
Those letters to Lieu and Janz may be key, the watchdog group noted, as they could factor into the question of whether Nunes’ attorney was working on a contingency agreement or being paid ahead of time.
“Mr. Biss sent a letter to Representative Lieu threatening to bring an ethics complaint against him,” the group wrote in its complaint. “An ethics complaint will not result in a monetary award that could support payment under a contingency fee agreement.”
It will be interesting to see how this new line of attack on Nunes plays out. Thus far, neither the congressman nor his attorney has commented on the ethics complaint.