The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is suing the Russian government, Donald Trump’s campaign, and WikiLeaks for conspiring to steal its emails, taint its image, and put its preferred presidential candidate at an unfair disadvantage in the 2016 election. In a lawsuit filed in federal court Friday, the DNC seeks millions in damages and a formal acknowledgment that the defendants conspired to hack its computers, extract private information, and publish it with the intention of aiding Trump’s candidacy.
The 66-page complaint collects the publicly known facts about Russia’s attempts to intervene in the 2016 race — and the interest that various Trump campaign associates evinced in benefiting from that interference — into a sweeping narrative of treacherous villainy, delivered in purple (yet legalistic) prose.
“The conspiracy constituted an act of previously unimaginable treachery: the campaign of the presidential nominee of a major party in league with a hostile foreign power to bolster its own chance to win the presidency,” the lawsuit alleges.
The DNC will need to clear a few hurdles to win its case, the most formidable being that foreign governments enjoy immunity from most U.S. lawsuits. The committee tries to surmount that obstacle by arguing that “Russia’s trespass on to the DNC’s private servers” constituted an attempt to “steal trade secrets and commit economic espionage” — offenses that the Kremlin can be held accountable for under American law.
Further, while it’s clear that several Trump campaign officials were more than happy to aid and abet Russian efforts to hurt Hillary Clinton’s candidacy through cybercrimes, there has yet to be dispositive, public evidence that they ever entered into an illegal conspiracy with the Russian government. The lawsuit asserts that Trump’s allies entered into an agreement with the Kremlin “to promote Donald Trump’s candidacy through illegal means.”
Regardless, the complaint does throw a spotlight on the (pretty darn damning) fact that the Trump campaign received “repeated messages that Russia intended to interfere with U.S. elections,” and responded by “gleefully welcom[ing] Russia’s help” — instead of, say, reporting the Kremlin’s plot to the relevant authorities.
The president himself is not listed among the lawsuit defendants, but Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Jared Kushner, George Papadopoulos, Rick Gates, Julian Assange, and a host of Russian entities are.
While the official aim of the lawsuit is to collect millions in damages to compensate for financial and personal costs of the cyberattacks, its primary aim may be to create yet another source of legal and political jeopardy for the president and his aides. So long as the DNC’s case proves strong enough to proceed, Trump & Co. could be forced to testify under oath about their contacts with Russian operatives during the 2016 campaign.