On Tuesday, a Bill Clinton-appointed U.S. district judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Democratic National Committee against the Trump campaign for its alleged role in the hacking and dissemination of internal Democratic Party emails during the 2016 presidential race. In his opinion issued Tuesday, Judge John Koeltl torches the key premises of the DNC’s racketeering suit, including the Trump campaign’s role in the hacking of the emails and the very notion that disseminating information “plainly of the type entitled to the strongest protection that the First Amendment offers” is legally actionable.
The DNC’s lawsuit was filed against Donald Trump, his campaign officials and “defendants” — including Donald Trump Jr, Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, George Papadopoulos, Richard Gates and Roger Stone — WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, the Russian Federation, and various Russian individuals. The DNC’s allegation: that the Trump campaign coordinated with Russians and WikiLeaks to release Democratic Party officials’ emails in order to benefit then-candidate Trump.
But, as Koeltl details in his 80+ page opinion, neither the evidence nor the law back up the DNC’s complaint. The lawsuit itself alleged that the Russian Federation alone actually hacked the DNC’s servers and gained access to the emails, not the Trump campaign. “The primary wrongdoer in this alleged criminal activity is undoubtedly the Russian Federation,” Koeltl writes, but, he continues, “under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act…, the Russian Federation cannot be sued” in U.S. courts.
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks, not the Trump campaign, actually published the documents, but, Koeltl maintains, Assange’s controversial organization cannot be sued because their actions fall under constitutional protections for the release of information that serves the public interest. “The DNC seeks to hold the second-level participants in this alleged activity [the Trump campaign, campaign defendants and WikiLeaks] liable for dissemination of stolen materials,” Koeltl writes. “But … the First Amendment prevents such liability in the same way it would preclude liability for press outlets that publish materials of public interest[.]”
Koeltl went further: Even if the Trump campaign had itself had obtained and published the documents, it too would have been protected under the First Amendment because the documents “allowed the American electorate to look behind the curtain of one of the two major political parties in the United States during a presidential election,” and thus constitutes information “entitled to the strongest protection that the First Amendment offers.”
“Even if the documents had been provided directly to the Campaign [and] the Campaign defendants … they could have published the documents themselves without liability because they did not participate in the theft and the documents are of public concern,” he wrote in summary (h/t Politico). “The DNC cannot hold these defendants liable for aiding and abetting publication when they would have been entitled to publish the stolen documents themselves without liability.”
Both the DNC and Trump have responded to the ruling. In a statement reported by Politico, the DNC decried the Clinton-appointed judge’s dismissal of the suit, saying his opinion “raises serious concerns about our protections from foreign election interference and the theft of private property to advance the interests of our enemies.”
In a pair of tweets Tuesday night, Trump celebrated “yet another total & complete vindication & exoneration.”
“Wow! 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,” Trump wrote. “The Judge said the DNC case was ‘entirely divorced’ from the facts, yet another total & complete 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!”