Free-Speech Groups Support WikiLeaks Move to Dismiss DNC Lawsuit

(Bloomberg) -- A trio of free-speech groups urged a U.S. judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed against WikiLeaks by the Democratic National Committee over the disclosure of private DNC information, arguing that published material -- even if acquired illegally -- is protected by the First Amendment.

The suit, filed by the DNC last April, accuses Russian intelligence of hacking into computers, penetrating its telephone systems, gaining access to tens of thousands of documents and emails and releasing them through WikiLeaks and other methods. The DNC also alleged that President Donald Trump’s campaign organization conspired with WikiLeaks, a claim Trump has denied.

In an earlier filing, WikiLeaks said it had no part in obtaining the materials and asked that the suit be dismissed because it singles out the organization "for publishing truthful information that is unquestionably of public interest."

On Wednesday, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press and the American Civil Liberties Union asked a judge to allow them to file papers in support of a request by WikiLeaks to dismiss the case. The groups said they were writing to emphasize one point -- a publication that would otherwise be protected by the First Amendment doesn’t lose that shield "simply because a source acquired the published information unlawfully, or because the publishing party communicated with the source about the receipt or publication of that information."

The groups said the Supreme Court has protected publications of "truthful information of public concern" in a series of cases over the last 50 years, including information that was published even after it was illegally acquired -- as long as the publisher wasn’t involved in the unlawful collection of the material.

"The press has relied on this protection to report on major stories -- ranging from the Pentagon Papers to the Panama Papers -- that inform the public and hold the powerful to account," the groups said in their filing. "A ruling that narrowed this protection could jeopardize the well-established legal framework that has made much more important investigative and national-security journalism possible."

Even if the case against WikiLeaks was dismissed, the DNC lawsuit names other defendants, including the Trump campaign, Russia, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former deputy campaign manager Richard Gates.

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