NEW YORK (AP) — Democrats’ claims that President Donald Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia were tossed out Tuesday by a judge who noted there were no allegations that anyone from the campaign stole documents from the Democratic National Committee.
The lawsuit brought by the committee alleged that Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia, WikiLeaks, Trump’s son-in-law and others. Trump’s campaign and lawyers for the other defendants denied the allegations.
U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl said Russia was “undoubtably” the primary wrongdoer in the alleged criminal enterprise, but the country can’t be sued in U.S. courts except in special circumstances not present in this case.
Meanwhile, he said the actions of the Trump campaign and others were protected by the First Amendment.
“In sum, the DNC does not allege any facts to show plausibly that any of the defendants, other than the Russia Federation, had any role in hacking the DNC’s computers or stealing its information,” Koeltl wrote. “It attributes that conduct only to the Russian Federation.
“And the DNC does not dispute that the documents were of public importance. Therefore, the First Amendment protects the publication of those stolen documents,” the judge said.
The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the American Civil Liberties Union had submitted written arguments supporting defendant WikiLeaks’ request that the lawsuit be tossed.
In support of his findings, Koeltl cited the Pentagon Papers case in which the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that The New York Times and the Washington Post were constitutionally protected when they published stories about a top-secret study that revealed the U.S. government misled the public about the Vietnam War.
On Tuesday night, Trump tweeted his pleasure regarding the dismal, saying it is “yet another total & complete vindication & exoneration from the Russian, WikiLeaks and every other form of HOAX perpetrated by the DNC, Radical Democrats and others.”
Adrienne Watson, the DNC’s deputy communications director, said in an email that the DNC is still reviewing the ruling.
“At first glance, this opinion raises serious concerns about our protections from foreign election interference and the theft of private property to advance the interests of our enemies,” Watson said.
“At a time when the Trump administration and Republican leaders in Congress are ignoring warnings from the president’s own intelligence officials about foreign interference in the 2020 election, this should be of concern to anyone who cares about our democracy and the sanctity of our elections,” Watson added.
In emails, several lawyers for people and groups named in the suit reacted to Koeltl’s decision.
Grant Smith, a lawyer for longtime Trump friend Roger Stone, said he was pleased the judge “saw through the Democrats’ thin lawsuit. It was always a Hail Mary in the DNC’s attempt to hold people, and in particular our client Roger Stone, responsible for the loss of Hilary Clinton in the 2016 election.”
Caroline Polisi, representing ex-Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, said the lawsuit’s claims about her client were “particularly anemic and bordered on the absurd.”
Joshua Dratel, an attorney for WikiLeaks, said he was “very gratified with the result, which reaffirms First Amendment principles that apply to journalists across the board, whether they work for large institutions or small independent operations.”