DNC Sues Russia, Trump Campaign

  • In this April 18, 2018 photo, President Donald Trump listens during a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump's private Mar-a-Lago club, in Palm Beach, Fla. The Democratic National Committee on Friday sued President Donald Trump's campaign, Trump's son, his son-in-law, the Russian Federation and WikiLeaks. The Democrats accuse the defendants of conspiring to help Trump win the 2016 presidential election after breaking into DNC computers and stealing tens of thousands of emails and documents. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) Pablo Martinez Monsivais

  • A lawsuit that was filed by the Democratic National Committee is photographed Friday, April 20, 2018, in Washington. The national Democratic Party sued President Donald Trump's campaign, his son, his son-in-law, the Russian Federation and WikiLeaks, accusing them of an intricate conspiracy to undercut Democrats in the 2016 election by stealing tens of thousands of emails and documents. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Alex Brandon

Published: 4/20/2018 11:41:31 PM
Modified: 4/20/2018 11:41:45 PM

The Democratic National Committee filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit on Friday against the Russian government, the Trump campaign and the WikiLeaks organization alleging a far-reaching conspiracy to disrupt the 2016 campaign and tilt the election to Donald Trump.

The complaint, filed in federal district court in Manhattan, alleges that top Trump campaign officials conspired with the Russian government and its military spy agency to hurt Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and help Trump by hacking the computer networks of the Democratic Party and disseminating stolen material found there.

“During the 2016 presidential campaign, Russia launched an all-out assault on our democracy, and it found a willing and active partner in Donald Trump’s campaign,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement.

“This constituted an act of unprecedented treachery: the campaign of a nominee for President of the United States in league with a hostile foreign power to bolster its own chance to win the presidency,” he said.

The case asserts that the Russian hacking campaign — combined with Trump associates’ contacts with Russia and the campaign’s public cheerleading of the hacks — amounted to an illegal conspiracy to interfere in the election that caused serious damage to the Democratic Party.

Senate investigators and prosecutors for special counsel Robert Mueller still are investigating whether Trump associates coordinated with any Russian efforts. Last month, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee said they had found no evidence that President Trump and his affiliates colluded with Russian officials to sway the election or that the Kremlin sought to help Trump — a conclusion rejected by the panel’s Democrats.

In a statement, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said the Democrats’ lawsuit was without merit and likely to be dismissed.

“This is a sham lawsuit about a bogus Russian collusion claim filed by a desperate, dysfunctional, and nearly insolvent Democratic Party,” he said. “With the Democrats’ conspiracy theories against the President’s campaign evaporating as quickly as the failing DNC’s fundraising, they’ve sunk to a new low to raise money, especially among small donors who have abandoned them.”

The lawsuit echoes a similar legal tactic that the Democratic Party used during the Watergate scandal. In 1972, the DNC filed suit against then-President Richard Nixon’s reelection committee seeking $1 million in damages for the break-in at Democratic headquarters in the Watergate building.

The suit was denounced at the time by Nixon’s attorney general, John Mitchell, who called it a case of “sheer demagoguery” by the DNC. But the civil action brought by the DNC’s then-chairman, Lawrence O’Brien, was ultimately successful, yielding a $750,000 settlement from the Nixon campaign that was reached on the day in 1974 that Nixon left office.

Nick Akerman, a former Watergate prosecutor who now specializes in computer fraud cases, said he thought the Democrat’s suit had merit and, despite predictions from Trump-allied lawyers, was unlikely to go away anytime soon.

“There is no way it’s going to be dismissed,” said Akerman, a partner in the New York office of the Dorsey & Whitney law firm. “At least not on the computer fraud part of the case, which is really the heart of it. The Democrats have every right to bring this suit as they are aggrieved. My question is: What took them so long?”

If allowed to proceed, the lawsuit would give the Democrats a chance to seek internal documents and testimony from the Trump campaign to help them learn more about interactions with Russia during the campaign.

Parscale noted that the Trump campaign, too, would be allowed to conduct discovery. He promised that the campaign would use the process to probe management decisions at the DNC, as well the party’s involvement with commissioning the Trump dossier, a research document produced by a former British spy that alleged that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia.

Suing a foreign country may present legal challenges for the Democrats, in part because other nations have immunity from most U.S. lawsuits.

The lawsuit argues that Russia is not entitled to sovereign immunity in this case because “the DNC claims arise out of Russia’s trespass on to the DNC’s private servers ... in order to steal trade secrets and commit economic espionage.”

The suit seeks millions of dollars in compensation to offset damage it claims the party suffered from the hacks. The DNC argues that the cyberattack undermined its ability to communicate with voters, collect donations and operate effectively as its employees faced personal harassment and, in some cases, death threats.

The suit also seeks an acknowledgment from the defendants that they conspired to infiltrate the Democrats’ computers, steal information and disseminate it to influence the election.

To support its case, the lawsuit offers a detailed narrative of the DNC hacks, as well as episodes in which key Trump aides are alleged to have been told Russia held damaging information about Clinton.

Russia engaged in a “brazen attack on U.S. soil” the party alleges, a campaign that began with the cyberhack of its computer networks in 2015 and 2016. Trump campaign officials received repeated outreach from Russia, the suit says.

“Rather than report these repeated messages and communications that Russia intended to interfere in the U.S. election, the Trump campaign and its agents gleefully welcomed Russia’s help,” the party argues.

The suit does not name Trump as a defendant. Instead, it targets various Trump aides who, during the campaign, met with people believed to be affiliated with Russia. The aides targeted include the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law Jared Kushner, Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and Manafort’s deputy at the campaign, Rick Gates.

The DNC lawsuit also names as a defendant the Russian military intelligence service, the GRU, which has been accused by the U.S. government of orchestrating the hacks, as well as WikiLeaks, which published emails stolen from the DNC, and the group’s founder Julian Assange.




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