“Hours before the Democratic presidential debates, a federal judge dismissed the Democratic National Committee’s lawsuit that accused the Trump campaign, the Russian Federation, WikiLeaks and others of interfering in the 2016 elections.
“The primary wrongdoer in this alleged criminal enterprise is undoubtedly [sic] the Russian Federation, the first named defendant in the case and the entity that surreptitiously and illegally hacked into the DNC’s computers and thereafter disseminated the results of its theft,” wrote U.S. District Judge John Koeltl, a Clinton appointee.
Before weighing the evidence against Russia, however, Koeltl found that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act foreclosed him from holding it liable for the DNC server hack.
The DNC blamed a host of secondary actors in a conspiracy, including Russian-linked Maltese academic Joseph Mifsud; oligarchs Emin and Aras Agalarov; and Trump family members and campaign figures like Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos and Roger Stone.
Finding these claims likewise unconvincing, Koeltl ruled that the U.S. Constitution protected them from liability related to disseminating stolen emails.
“The 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 81-page opinion states.
Citing precedent from the the Pentagon Papers case, Koeltl held that treating WikiLeaks as an accomplice “would render any journalist who publishes an article based on stolen information a co-conspirator in the theft.”
“If WikiLeaks could be held liable for publishing documents concerning the DNC’s political financial and voter-engagement strategies simply because the DNC labels them ‘secret’ and trade secrets, then so could any newspaper or other media outlet,” the opinion states. “But that would impermissibly elevate a purely private privacy interest to override the First Amendment interest in the publication of matters of the highest public concern. The DNC’s published internal communications 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. This type of information is plainly of the type entitled to the strongest protection that the First Amendment offers.”
WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange argued last year that the DNC’s lawsuit threatened freedom of the press. Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the American Civil Liberties Union echoed those concerns in a friend-of-the-court brief.” (Read more: Courthouse News, 7/30/2019)