DNC Sues Trump Campaign, WikiLeaks, Russia Over Election InterferenceBloomberg
April 20, 2018
The Democratic National Committee sued Russia, the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks claiming widespread interference in the 2016 election as part of a "brazen attack on American democracy."
The civil lawsuit could force President Donald Trump's 2016 staffers to answer questions under oath about campaign activities. Evidence gathered by the DNC could be made public in court filings and at a trial -- in contrast to information obtained through Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe of Russian interference, which might not be publicly disclosed.
Many of the allegations reflect conclusions of major U.S. intelligence agencies and comes from guilty pleas and legal filings by Mueller, who is investigating links between Russia and the Trump campaign. The suit names close Trump associates including Jared Kushner, Roger Stone and Donald Trump Jr., along with several prosecuted by Mueller, signaling the DNC intends to cast a wide net.
"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."
With Trump threatening to fire Mueller and members of Congress resistant to the probe, the lawsuit offers an opportunity for Democrats to push forward with their own investigation.
The suit is being filed now because the DNC learned in April 2016 that it had been hacked and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act has a two-year statute of limitations, a person with direct knowledge of the case said. The person, who asked not to be identified, said it wasn't filed earlier because the committee and its lawyers have been engaged in a lengthy information-gathering process.
The complaint, filed Friday in Manhattan federal court, includes claims of computer fraud, trespass and racketeering and seeks unspecified damages, along with a declaration that the Trump campaign, Russia and WikiLeaks conspired to steal information. The White House didn't have an immediate comment.
Beginning in mid-2016, WikiLeaks released almost 20,000 emails from inside the DNC that showed, among other things, how DNC staffers had favored Hillary Clinton during her primary campaign against Bernie Sanders -- prompting Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida to resign as the committee head. Later in the campaign, WikiLeaks released tens of thousands of emails from the Gmail account of John Podesta, Clinton's campaign chairman.
The disclosures proved to be a source of embarrassment and frustration for the Clinton campaign, serving to muddy its message. WikiLeaks began releasing Podesta's emails almost immediately after Trump was heard boasting of lewd conduct on an "Access Hollywood" tape from 2005.
The committee accuses Russian intelligence of hacking into its computers, penetrating its telephone systems and gaining access to tens of thousands of documents and emails. The Russians then used the information to destabilize the U.S. political environment, denigrate Clinton and support Trump, according to the complaint.
The Trump campaign "gleefully welcomed Russia's help," sought its illegal assistance and secretly communicated with individuals tied to the Russian government, the complaint says. They also shared it with WikiLeaks, according to the complaint.
"As stolen DNC information was strategically released into the public sphere, then-candidate Trump openly praised the illegal disseminations and encouraged Russia to continue its violations of U.S. law through its ongoing hacking campaign against the Democratic Party," according to the complaint.
The DNC is represented by Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, a Washington firm perhaps best know for bringing class-action lawsuits against corporations.
The case names more than a dozen entities or individuals as defendants, including the Russian Federation, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and an intelligence operative known as Guccifer 2.0. It also names WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, as well as individual members of the Trump campaign including former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who faces federal money laundering and tax-evasion charges, and his aide Richard Gates, who has pleaded guilty and is cooperating in Mueller's probe.
The DNC says in its complaint that the scheme "inflicted profound damage" by undermining its effort to communicate "values and vision" and creating discord when unity was needed. The hacks led to a "dramatic drop" in donations as donors were concerned their information could be disseminated, according to the suit.
"The Democratic National Committee was the first major target of the Russian attack on our democracy, and I strongly believe that every individual who helped carry it out -- foreign or domestic -- should be held accountable," Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.
The case is not the first lawsuit to allege Russian interference. Two Democratic Party supporters and a former DNC staffer sued the Trump campaign and Stone last year, in Washington federal court, accusing them of conspiring with Russian operatives to publish information stolen from the Democratic National Committee on WikiLeaks. The men alleged that data included some of their own personal identifying information. The case is pending.
The case is Democratic National Committee v. the Russian Federation, 18-cv-3501, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York.