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WaPo: Democrats file suit over 2016 election

The Democratic National Committee is suing Russia, the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, alleging they conspired to help Trump win the presidency.

Posted: Apr 21, 2018 5:21 PM
Updated: Apr 21, 2018 5:32 PM

The Democratic National Committee is suing the Trump campaign, Russia, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and several relatives and associates of President Donald Trump alleging a grand conspiracy that harmed Democrats through WikiLeaks' publication of internal party emails during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The 66-page lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court on Friday lays out how the Trumps allegedly curried favor in Russia through their family business, and then Russians allegedly used those connections before the presidential election to disseminate the spoils from a cyberattack on the DNC.

"In the Trump campaign, Russia found a willing and active partner in this effort" to disrupt the presidential election, the Democratic committee alleges.

Judge John G. Koeltl, a Clinton appointee, will preside over the case.

Trump's campaign called the lawsuit" frivolous" and characterized it as "a last-ditch effort to substantiate the baseless Russian collusion allegations" by a party "still trying to counter the will of the people in the 2016 presidential election."

"This is a sham lawsuit about a bogus Russian collusion claim filed by a desperate, dysfunctional, and nearly insolvent Democratic Party," campaign manager Brad Parscale said. "With the Democrats' conspiracy theories against the President's campaign evaporating as quickly as the failing DNC's fundraising, they've sunk to a new low to raise money, especially among small donors who have abandoned them. "

A DNC official acknowledged Friday that the lawsuit alleges no new evidence of cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russians. But the filing strings the publicly available information about the Trump orbit's contact with Russians into a single narrative. The official said that hadn't been done yet, and time was running out for the party's ability to bring the suit.

The Democratic Party alleges the conspiracy and the hacking hurt their relationship with voters, chilled donations, disrupted their political convention and subjected their staffers to harassment. The lawsuit outlines nearly every known communication between Trump advisers and Russians.

In all, it alleges a dozen crimes, from racketeering and conspiracy to wiretapping and trade secrets violations.

DNC officials say they believe their lawsuit could recoup substantial monetary damages.

In addition to millions of dollars in damages related to the hack and other claims, the DNC is asking for an injunction that would stop any of the defendants from using material gained through the hack, and for a statement from the defendants admitting to the alleged conspiracy.

The party also could seek to interview some of the defendants under oath, as well as others with knowledge who aren't parties in the suit, and then make their findings public if the court allows it. Currently, two conspicuous names that aren't defendants in the suit are former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the President himself.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a nearly year-long cybersecurity strengthening effort which was the initial internal DNC response to the hack -- for fortifying their systems and processes.

"We are not going to just stand by and let Russia hack the DNC," said one official. "We are the victims."

In addition to the Russian Federation, the lawsuit names several top Trump advisers who attended the now-infamous June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower that aimed to obtain dirt on Hillary Clinton, such as Donald Trump Jr., campaign chairman Paul Manafort and son-in-law Jared Kushner; Azerbaijani-Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov and his pop-singer son Emin; Manafort deputy Rick Gates; the Russian operative called Guccifer 2.0 who hacked the DNC; longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone; former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos; a Russia-connected professor he communicated with named Joseph Mifsud; and Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

"Roger Stone did not conspire, collude, or do any action to subvert the electoral process," Robert Buschel, Stone's lawyer, said Friday. "Sadly, these meritless lawsuits against Roger Stone is not an effective form of therapy for loss the DNC suffered in 2016."

Papadopoulos' lawyers declined to comment on the lawsuit the DNC filed against Papadopoulos and others Friday regarding an alleged conspiracy with Russia, while hinting that special counsel Robert Mueller continues to unravel details related to Papadopoulos' involvement with Russians and the campaign and to rely on the former Trump adviser.

"Mr. Papadopoulos continues to cooperate in the special counsel's investigation," the statement said.

The Democrats' narrative in the filing begins with Trump's announcement that he would run for president in 2015, the same year the New York tycoon indicated an interest in developing property in Moscow.

"As Trump moved closer to securing the nomination, the ties between his campaign and Russia's government grew substantially," the lawsuit alleges. It notes a trip to Russia by Flynn, meetings Papadopoulos held that discussed "dirt" Russians allegedly had on Clinton, the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting organized on the promise that Russia could help Trump's campaign, private communications that Trump Jr. and Stone had with WikiLeaks, and Manafort's connections in Eastern Europe.

Parscale predicted the lawsuit would be dismissed. But if it goes forward, "the DNC has created an opportunity for us to take aggressive discovery into their claims of 'damages' and uncover their acts of corruption for the American people," he said.

In the summer of 2016, the Democratic National Committee went public with claims that Russian hackers had gained access to their computer systems, obtaining emails and opposition research against Trump.

Days before the Democratic National Convention, when Clinton was set to receive the party's presidential nomination, WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of hacked DNC emails.

The release of the emails, which included messages disparaging Bernie Sanders, threw the Democratic Party into turmoil at a moment when the party was supposed to be coming together in support of a nominee, and intensified infighting between supporters of Clinton and Sanders.

"The Democratic National Committee was the first major target of the Russian attack on our democracy, and I strongly believe that every individual who helped carry it out -- foreign or domestic -- should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the DNC at the time of the hack, said in a statement Friday.

Probing the contours

Mueller was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein last year to investigate the same contours that the Democrats allege. As part of that mandate, Mueller is empowered to investigate any links between the Russian government and Trump campaign associates and bring criminal prosecutions.

So far, Papadopoulos and former national security adviser Flynn have pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about their interactions with Russians. Manafort has pleaded not guilty in charges related to his lobbying work for Ukrainian politicians before he joined the Trump campaign. Mueller's office has indicated they're interested in Manafort's links to Russians while he served on the campaign, though Manafort has not been charged for his actions in 2016.

Flynn, Papadopoulos and Gates have agreed to help the federal authorities with their investigation. Mueller has also charged 13 Russians for using fraudulent accounts on social media to influence the election. Mueller has not yet brought charges related to the DNC hack.

Papadopoulos' fiancée has done several interviews, including with CNN, since his plea. He is not yet scheduled for sentencing.

"Revealing details at this point in time or responding to allegations made today would not serve the administration of justice. It is our hope that when all the facts are known, the plaintiff will voluntarily dismiss Mr. Papadopoulos from the complaint," Chicago-based lawyers Thomas Breen and Robert Stanley wrote in their press release on Friday.

The US intelligence community has concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered "an influence campaign" in 2016 with the goal of undermining public confidence in the US democratic process and eroding Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the presidency.

Trump, however, has repeatedly insisted that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russians, and has denounced the special counsel investigation as a "witch hunt."

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