Trump Campaign Calls DNC's Russia Hacking Suit Sour Grapes

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s campaign organization told a judge that the Democratic National Committee made a specious attempt to "explain away" Hillary Clinton’s 2016 defeat by claiming in a lawsuit that there was a vast conspiracy with Russia and WikiLeaks to hack the DNC’s emails and tilt the election.

The racketeering suit against dozens of individuals and entities, including Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence, also risks colliding with investigations by congressional committees and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, raising the possibility that the case would need to be put on hold, the campaign said Friday in a court filing seeking dismissal of the suit.

The Trump campaign argues the DNC’s conspiracy claim fails because the campaign is only accused of receiving advance notice of leaks, making political use of the revealed material and publicly encouraging more hacks.

"The DNC does not claim the campaign had any role in hacking its systems and stealing the materials -- it attributes that only to Russia," according to the filing. "Nor does the DNC claim the campaign played any part in publishing the stolen materials -- it attributes that only to Russia and WikiLeaks."

Some of the DNC’s claims reflect conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies and come from legal filings by Mueller, who is investigating whether Russia colluded with Trump to help him win the election. Trump, who praised the release of the DNC’s emails and publicly called on Russia to hack into Clinton’s as well, calls the probe a “witch hunt” and denies any wrongdoing.

The campaign’s filing includes a fresh defense of the hack, saying the release of the organization’s emails by WikiLeaks "revealed important information about the DNC to the public," including allegedly racist political tactics and internal claims of sexual harassment.

The DNC said the motion “is straight from the president’s playbook: it ignores the facts because the facts aren’t good for them.” 

“Russia attacked our country in 2016 and it found willing partners in Wikileaks and the Trump campaign,” Adrienne Watson, the DNC’s deputy communications director, said in an emailed statement. “In fact, even as this motion was being filed, we learned that one of the defendants in this case, Paul Manafort, is still lying about his communications with a suspected Russian intelligence agent.”

Several other defendants on Friday filed separate motions to dismiss the claims, including the president’s son-in-law and special adviser, Jared Kushner, and his longtime friend and confidante Roger Stone. They claim the DNC’s web of claims doesn’t meet the legal burden for proving a racketeering conspiracy or link them to the actually hacking by Russia.

Stone, whose seemingly prescient tweets about leaks were cited in the complaint, said the posts related to a different hack of the personal email account of John Podesta, who was then chairman of Clinton’s election campaign -- a defense he’s previously offered. The DNC is conflating the DNC and Podesta hacks to try to link Stone to Russia, he said.

“Roger Stone is not alleged to have spoken to any Russians or hackers about the alleged theft of DNC data or its transfer to WikiLeaks,” Stone’s lawyer said in the filing.

WikiLeaks, also a defendant, on Friday argued the suit should be tossed out on constitutional grounds, saying the case poses “an existential threat to the fundamental First Amendment right.” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is also named in the suit.

Any finding of liability against WikiLeaks “would quickly drive independent and less financially secure media organizations -- and ultimately even the titans -- as well as individual journalists, at every level everywhere, from reporting and publishing altogether,” the website said.

The DNC complaint relies heavily on details surrounding the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting at which campaign officials sought dirt on Clinton from people representing Russian interests. Kushner said his attendance at the meeting and his role as a decision-maker for the campaign’s data efforts aren’t enough to link him to a hacking conspiracy.

Kushner was among those who represented the Trump campaign at the Trump Tower meeting, “which was arranged on the premise that the Kremlin was seeking to help Donald Trump by offering damaging information on the Democratic nominee,” DNC spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in an email.

Among others, the suit filed in April also names George Papadopoulos, a foreign-policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, and Rick Gates, an aide to onetime Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Papadopoulos and Gates filed motions to toss the suit.

Gates pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to federal agents, and testified as a prosecution witness in the successful tax fraud and money-laundering case against his former boss. Papadopoulos admitted lying to federal agents about his contacts with a U.K. college professor who claimed to have ties to Russians in possession of Clinton’s emails.

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