A federal judge in frank terms has dismissed a lawsuit by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) against key members of the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks over hacked DNC documents, saying they “did not participate in any wrongdoing in obtaining the materials in the first place” and therefore bore no legal liability for disseminating the information.
The ruling came as Democrats have increasingly sought to tie the Trump team to illegal activity in Russia, in spite of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s findings that the campaign in fact refused multiple offers by Russians to involve them in hacking and disinformation efforts.
The DNC asserted in court filings that the Trump team’s meetings “with persons connected to the Russian government during the time that the Russian GRU agents were stealing the DNC’s information” were a sign that they were conspiring with the Russians to “steal and disseminate the DNC’s materials.”
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Thet suit did not allege that the stolen materials were false or defamatory but rather sought to hold the Trump team and other defendants liable for the theft of the DNC’s information under various Virginia and federal statutes.
However, Judge John Koeltl, a Bill Clinton appointee sitting in the Southern District of New York, wrote in his 81-page opinion Tuesday that the DNC’s argument was “entirely divorced” from the facts.
The DNC first filed its suit in April 2018, and the defendants responded that the First Amendment legally protects the dissemination of stolen materials.
“In short, the DNC raises a number of connections and communications between the defendants and with people loosely connected to the Russian Federation, but at no point does the DNC allege any facts … to show that any of the defendants — other than the Russian Federation — participated in the theft of the DNC’s information,” Koeltl said.
“Nor does the DNC allege that the defendants ever agreed to help the Russian Federation steal the DNC’s documents,” he added.
Koeltl went on to describe multiple hacking efforts directed by Russians at the DNC, in which Russians “hacked into the DNC’s computers, penetrated its phone systems, and stole tens of thousands of documents.”
The suit also named the Russian government, but Koeltl noted that federal law prohibited suits against foreign governments except in highly specific circumstances. Koeltl nevertheless acknowledged that the Russian government was “undoubtedly” involved in the hacking.
Koeltl denied the Trump team’s motion for sanctions but dismissed the suit with prejudice — meaning it had a substantive legal defect and could not be refiled. An appeal remained possible.
In addition to the Trump campaign, WikiLeaks, and Russia, the DNC’s suit named Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, George Papadopoulos, Richard Gates (whose connections with Russia were “threadbare,” the judge said), Roger Stone, Joseph Mifsud, and Julian Assange.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.