A federal judge in New York on Tuesday dismissed the Democratic National Committee lawsuit against members of the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, saying they were not legally liable for publicizing emails that Russian hackers stole from the party’s computer systems.
“The DNC has now had three chances to plead a viable complaint and it is not clear how the DNC could plead around the fundamental defects in the current complaint,” U.S. District Court Judge John Koeltl said in his decision, referring to the Democratic National Committee.
The DNC first sued the Russian government, Trump associates, WikiLeaks, and several other individuals April 20, 2018, alleging a conspiracy to steal and disseminate 20,000 DNC emails that WikiLeaks published July 22, 2016.
The special counsel’s office indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers in the hack on July 13, 2018, but did not accuse anyone from WikiLeaks or the Trump campaign of helping steal the documents.
Robert Mueller, the special counsel, said in his final report that prosecutors did not find evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia.
Koeltl ruled that while the Russian government was behind the theft of DNC emails, Trump campaign associates and WikiLeaks “did not participate in any wrongdoing in obtaining the materials in the first place.”
“[T]he 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,” said Koeltl, an appointee of President Bill Clinton.
Koeltl said Trump associates and WikiLeaks are protected under the First Amendment, as are the numerous media outlets that published the pilfered emails.
“[T]he First Amendment prevents such liability in the same way it would preclude liability for press outlets that publish materials of public interest despite defects in the way the materials were obtained so long as the disseminator did not participate in any wrongdoing in obtaining the materials in the first place,” the judge said in his 81-page ruling.
“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.”
The DNC sued WikiLeaks, its founder Julian Assange, the Trump campaign, and several Trump associates—including son Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Richard Gates, and George Papadopoulos.
The lawsuit also included Aras and Emin Agalarov, two Russian businessmen who partnered with Trump on the Miss Universe pageant, and Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor who allegedly told Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign aide, in April 2016 that he had learned that the Russian government had “thousands” of Hillary Clinton’s emails.
The DNC initially included the Russian government and its military intelligence agency, the GRU, in its lawsuit. But Koeltl said the Russian government could not be sued because of international agreements that prohibit lawsuits against foreign governments.
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