Donald Trump scored a win Tuesday when a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by the Democratic National Committee claiming his presidential campaign conspired with Russia and WikiLeaks to hack the DNC’s emails in the run-up to the 2016 election.
The defendants violated U.S. racketeering, computer fraud and other laws in a “brazen attack on American democracy,” according to the suit. In tossing it, U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl in Manhattan based his ruling about Russia largely on a single legal issue — that while the “primary wrongdoer” in the alleged criminal enterprise was the Russian Federation, under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act it can’t be sued in the U.S., just as the U.S. generally can’t be sued abroad.
Trump himself wasn’t a defendant. Still, the outcome was a political boost for the president, who continues to be dogged by his relationship with Russia, a prominent topic of several investigations under way in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.
Trump celebrated the ruling on Twitter calling it an end to the “Witch Hunt.”
Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrumpWow! A federal Judge in the Southern District of N.Y. completely dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Democratic National Committee against our historic 2016 campaign for President. The Judge said the DNC case was “entirely divorced” from the facts, yet another total & complete….
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Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump….vindication & exoneration from the Russian, WikiLeaks and every other form of HOAX perpetrated by the DNC, Radical Democrats and others. This is really big “stuff” especially coming from a highly respected judge who was appointed by President Clinton. The Witch Hunt Ends!
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The DNC said it was reviewing the decision.
“At first glance, this opinion raises serious concerns about our protections from foreign election interference and the theft of private property to advance the interests of our enemies,” the committee said in an email, adding that “the Trump administration and Republican leaders in Congress are ignoring warnings from the president’s own intelligence officials about foreign interference in the 2020 election.”
Koeltl said the Constitution’s First Amendment prevents the other defendants from being held liable for disseminating the stolen materials, just as the news media wouldn’t be liable for publishing “materials of public interest” as long as they didn’t “participate in any wrongdoing” in getting them.
He said “the plausible allegations against the remaining defendants are insufficient to hold them liable for the illegality that occurred in obtaining the materials from the DNC.”
In ruling as he did, Koeltl appears to have sided with a trio of free-speech groups that argued the Supreme Court has protected publications of “truthful information of public concern” in a series of cases over the last 50 years, including information that was published even after it was illegally acquired, provided the publisher wasn’t involved in its unlawful collection.
Koeltl noted that the high court upheld the press’s right to publish information “of public concern obtained from documents stolen by a third party” in the Pentagon Papers case. He said there is a “significant legal distinction” between stealing documents and publishing documents that have already been stolen.
The DNC didn’t show that the other defendants participated in the theft of the information, and it’s irrelevant that WikiLeaks solicited the stolen documents from Russian agents, Koeltl wrote.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange — who was arrested in April at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he was in refuge since 2012, and charged with endangering national security by conspiring to obtain and disclose classified information — has argued that he is a journalist and is protected by the First Amendment.
The Russian Federation never appeared in the case and submitted a statement arguing it was immune from the committee’s claims under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. In his ruling Tuesday, Koeltl agreed, saying any relief should be sought by the U.S. government, and not from the courts.
The case is Democratic National Committee v. the Russian Federation, 18-cv-3501, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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