Shortly after President Joe Biden took office his administration abandoned an attempt to unmask the Twitter user who criticized Rep. Devin Nunes in a parody account, a newly unsealed court record reveals.
The document, made public Tuesday afternoon, shows that on March 17 the Department of Justice officially withdrew a subpoena to Twitter for identifying information about the creator of the @NunesAlt account, which criticized the Republican lawmaker from California.
The subpoena was secretly issued last November, when the Justice Department was led by former Attorney General William Barr.
In March, Twitter sued to quash the subpoena and to vacate a gag order that prevented the company from discussing the government's efforts to unmask the account holder.
“Given Congressman Nunes’s numerous attempts to unmask his anonymous critics ... Twitter is concerned that this subpoena is but another mechanism to attack its users’ First Amendment rights,” the company wrote in papers filed on March 10 with U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell in Washington, D.C.
Those papers weren't made public until this week, when Howell ordered the record in the case unsealed.
Twitter noted in its motion to quash the subpoena that the Justice Department only sought to unmask the parodists after Nunes unsuccessfully sought to obtain the information directly from Twitter.
“His efforts to suppress critical speech are as well-publicized as they are unsuccessful,” Twitter wrote. “He recently sued Twitter, attempting to hold it liable for speech by the parody Twitter accounts @DevinCow, @DevinNunesMom, @fireDevinNunes, and @DevinGrapes, and asking the court in that case to order Twitter to disclose information identifying those accounts.”
The lawsuit against Twitter was dismissed last June, and the company didn't have to comply with Nunes' demands for information. (Nunes' lawsuits against the parody accounts @DevinCow and @DevinNunesMom appear to remain pending.)
A Justice Department attorney told Twitter last November that the government sought the information as part of a criminal investigation into potential "threatening communications in interstate commerce."
The attorney refused to disclose the alleged threat that sparked the investigation, according to Twitter.