Rep. Nunes’ Multi-Million Dollar Lawsuits Against Media Potentially Violate House Ethics Rule

Devin Nunes walking down a hall being photographed by a photographer with a cop in the background
Ranking Member Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., (left) leaves the House Intelligence Committee Impeachment Hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on Thursday, November 21, 2019. Photo by UPI/Alamy Live News.

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) is calling for an investigation into whether U.S. Representative Devin Nunes is receiving legal services in violation of House ethics rules. Nunes has sued media organizations in multiple lawsuits for nearly $1 billion, but he has not disclosed any of the required public reports necessary to establish that he has properly paid for the extensive legal services. Instead, he appears to have received free legal services in violation of House rules.

Attorney Steven Biss filed the original lawsuits on Nunes’s behalf in 2019, alleging that various media organizations and individuals made defamatory statements about him. These organizations include Twitter Inc., McClatchy, CNN and Politico. However, there are no legal expense fund or campaign finance reports from 2019 or 2020 that list any payments to Biss.

House rules prohibit members from receiving discounted or free legal services because this would be treated as a gift, similar to how members are prohibited from receiving discounted or free home renovation services. The principle is that members cannot receive anything of significant value that could cause a potential conflict of interest, such as a special interest group paying for legal services. To expose any potential conflicts arising from the receipt of legal services, House rules require disclosure.

Nunes can only accept free legal services as donations to a legal expense fund. He is also allowed to use campaign funds to pay for the legal expenses. Either way, the receipt of legal services should have been disclosed. In the absence of the disclosures, it seems likely that Nunes is receiving free legal services in violation of House rules.

While Nunes is entitled to legal representation so that he can defend his interests, he must also comply with the guidelines set up to ensure that Members of Congress play by the rules. It is under the jurisdiction of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to conduct a review to determine whether any wrongdoing has occurred.

Corey handles media relations for the CLC voting rights and redistricting teams and creates online content. Follow @cgfromdc on Twitter