The Democratic National Committee’s lawsuit, filed late last week, accuses the Trump campaign of conspiring illegally with the Russian government, WikiLeaks, and others to hack the DNC’s computers in an effort to win the election.
While special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the role of Russia in the 2016 election continues to slowly rack up indictments without clearly spelling out any specific end-game, the DNC’s lawsuit makes it clear that the Democratic party won’t sit around waiting to see whether there will be legal consequences, considering the publicly available information showing that Russia hacked into its computers and offered private emails to Trump’s campaign.
“It has become abundantly clear to me that there is that conspiracy,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez said to Judy Woodruff on PBS News Hour Friday. “Civil lawsuits have an important purpose of deterrence. And I hear from so many people across this country, they have hacked before, they interfered in 2016, and they’re going to do it again. What are you going to do about it, Tom?”
The lawsuit calls the Trump campaign’s actions “an act of previously unimaginable treachery,” and claims that the hacking cost the party more than a million dollars to repair its computer security systems. Donations fell off and employees whose personal information was publicized dealt with harassment, including death threats.
The suit is based on information that’s already been made public through media reporting and court filings—the series of events encompasses the DNC computer hacks and the friendly contacts between campaign operatives, WikiLeaks’s Julian Assange, and Russian representatives. The DNC is asking for millions of dollars in damages as well as a formal acknowledgment that the defendants worked together to ding Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the presidential race. It names as defendants Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Jared Kushner, George Papadopoulos, Rick Gates, Julian Assange, the Russian government and its intelligence service, and Russian citizens including Trump’s contacts Aras and Emin Agalarov.
Foreign governments are generally immune from U.S. lawsuits, but the DNC is arguing that because the Russian government trespassed onto the committee’s computer servers to steal trade secrets, its immunity doesn’t apply.
The lawsuit came as a surprise to both Republicans and Democratic leaders in Congress—Perez says he told Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi that it was coming only right before filing. Some Democrats, including California Congresswoman Jackie Speier, have said it seems like a bad idea, but other observers see the lawsuit as a legitimate avenue for forcing the defendants to acknowledge that the election was tainted.
“There is no way it’s going to be dismissed,” Nick Ackerman told the Washington Post. Ackerman, a former Watergate prosecutor who is now a partner at the law firm Dorsey & Whitney and specializes in computer-fraud cases, asked why it took so long for the DNC to file a lawsuit. “The Democrats have every right to bring this suit as they are aggrieved.”
The DNC used a similar strategy after the Watergate break-in, suing President Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign for damages in 1972. Nixon’s campaign agreed to a $750,000 settlement on the day the president left office.