The Justice Department last year unleashed its subpoena power to uncover the identity of a Twitter user who created an account mocking Rep. Devin Nunes, according to court documents unsealed late Monday.
In late November, the Justice Department subpoenaed Twitter in seeking the identity of the user behind the fake @NunesAlt, a parody account.
The subpoena was issued after Mr. Nunes, California Republican, sued Twitter and parody accounts posing as his cow and his mother as he sought to shut down accounts using his name. A judge last year dismissed the lawsuit.
Twitter, in response to the subpoena, has vowed to keep the @NunesAlt user’s identity a secret, saying the Justice Department is out to silence Mr. Nunes‘ critics and shut down free speech.
“In light of Congressman Nunes‘s repeated efforts to silence criticism against him, any complaint that gave rise to the Subpoena may be aimed at doing the same,” Twitter’s lawyers wrote in March to the federal judge overseeing a grand jury.
The spat was made public in newly released court records, but the documents don’t reveal who was investigated or if the probe has concluded.
A national security prosecutor in the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia sought Twitter records dating back to Oct. 1, 2020, according to court documents.
Twitter fought the subpoena, saying that the Justice Department’s bid to unmask the user violates free speech protections in the Constitution.
Lawyers for the tech giant said the person behind the account “appears to be engaged in clear First Amendment activity.”
A lawyer for Twitter also said a federal prosecutor told the company’s law firm that the subpoena was part of a criminal probe into threats, court documents revealed.
The prosecutor, Michael Friedman, however, would not provide the law firm with any details, including what the threat was or if it was aimed at Mr. Nunes, according to court documents.
While the investigation began under the Trump administration, it appears to have carried over into the Biden administration. A grand jury in Washington was still seeking Twitter records as late as March, court documents said.
However, the subpoena was withdrawn soon after President Biden took office, according to documents. That makes the status of the investigation even more opaque.
In a statement, Twitter vowed to protect the user’s identity.
“We have a strong track record and take seriously the trust placed in us to work to protect the private information of the people on Twitter,” the company said in a statement.
The @NunesAlt account also weighed in on the subpoena fight. The account, which pretends to be a parody of Mr. Nunes‘ mother, joked: “This is the closest thing I’m gonna get to a Mother’s Day card.”