In brief: A federal judge threw out a lawsuit filed by the Democratic National Committee against the Russian government, Wikileaks, and the Trump campaign on Tuesday. The suit alleges that the defendants were involved in the breaching of DNC computers and releasing of private emails in 2016.
Although US District Judge John Koeltl, a Clinton appointee, agreed that the Russian Federation was “undoubtedly” behind the hack, he ruled that it could not be sued. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act indemnifies foreign government from facing civil lawsuits.
“The remedies for hostile actions by foreign governments are state actions,” wrote Koeltl in his ruling. In other words, Russia’s actions must be handled through diplomacy rather than through the judicial system.
Additionally, the judge ruled that WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign cannot be held liable for the leaking of the DNC emails without violating the First Amendment. Judge Koeltl cited precedent set by the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Pentagon Papers case.
“The First Amendment prevents such liability in the same way it would preclude liability for press outlets. 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, 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.”
As for the DNC’s claims that WikiLeaks actively hacked its computers, Judge Koeltl ruled that the committee “failed to allege plausibly” that it was directly involved.
“It reaffirms some important First Amendment principles that apply to journalism across the board, regardless of whether you’re a powerful institution or a small independent operation,” WikiLeaks attorney Joshua Dratel told Courthouse News.
Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the DNC said they are reviewing the decision and are worried about the precedent it sets.
“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,” said Watson in a written statement.
The case was dismissed “without leave to refile.” Neither Watson nor DNC lawyer Joseph Sellers indicated whether it plans to appeal.
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