“Suing the president for winning is a great look for the Defenders of Democracy™️,” sniffs Seth Mandel. When Tocqueville wrote that most political questions in America eventually turn into judicial ones, he didn’t know the half of it.
The best part of this is the many half-baked tweets and Facebook posts it’ll inspire among dumber members of the Resistance who think victory in court will mean that Hillary gets to become president. Don’t laugh. Stranger ideas have been floated by those who haven’t made peace with Trump’s victory.
In the meantime, though, a question. Why now? Why didn’t the DNC or Hillary file suit last January, once the suspicions underlying the Russiagate inquiry became clearer?
Suing a foreign country may present legal challenges for the Democrats, in part because other nations have immunity from most U.S. lawsuits. The DNC’s complaint argues Russia is not entitled to the protection because the hack constituted a trespass on the party’s private property…
The suit filed Friday seeks millions of dollars in compensation to offset damage it claims the party suffered from the hacks. The DNC argues that the cyberattack undermined its ability to communicate with voters, collect donations and operate effectively as its employees faced personal harassment and, in some cases, death threats.
The suit also seeks an acknowledgment from the defendants that they conspired to infiltrate the Democrats’ computers, steal information and disseminate it to influence the election.
The most interesting detail in the complaint has to do with when the DNC’s servers were hacked. It first happened in July 2015 and then again in April 2016 — just four days before George Papadopoulos was told by Russia-connected professor Joseph Mifsud that Moscow had “dirt” on Hillary, including “thousands of emails.” Hmmmm.
But back to the question. Why now? Mueller’s still in the thick of his collusion probe and has already indicted 13 Russians. By suing, the DNC makes it even easier for Trump to howl that the Russiagate probe is part of a partisan effort to delegitimize him. Democrats could have hung back and waited for Mueller to finish in order to deny Trump that argument. (Although maybe the statute of limitations wouldn’t allow that?) As it is, I can think of three reasons:
1. The DNC thinks this’ll be a morale booster for the midterms and will earn it some much-needed goodwill from the Democratic rank-and-file. Their fundraising numbers are garbage nowadays, remember, due to the backlash from their favoritism towards Hillary over Bernie Sanders in the last primary. They’re scrambling for ways to be relevant again and to unite the party behind them. Pulling the pin on a Russiagate grenade and lobbing it at Trump and Putin is one way to do that.
2. They’re watching Stormy Daniels and Michael Avenatti run rings around TrumpWorld and its lawyers and figure, “How hard can it be?” Interestingly, Trump himself isn’t a defendant in the DNC suit. But they could seek discovery from those who are and, as the case progresses, could seek to depose them or POTUS himself as a witness. A legal showdown with Trump to force him to testify would be nothing but upside for the DNC. If Trump resists, it looks like he’s hiding something. If he pleads the Fifth to avoid testifying, it *really* looks like he’s hiding something. And if he actually agrees to testify, hoo boy.
3. They may be nervous that, in the end, Mueller simply won’t have the goods. Mueller might clear Trump or, even if he finds probable cause that a crime occurred, might forgo an indictment by referring the matter to the House for impeachment instead. The Republican-controlled majority might then bury the matter, claiming that they disagree with the finding of probable cause. Democrats could and would run on that decision this fall, of course, but that’s dicey: If Trump fans believe that he’ll be impeached if Dems retake the House, that’s powerful incentive for them to turn out. The whole thing may backfire on Pelosi’s party. In which case, why not go into civil court, where the standard of proof is “preponderance of the evidence” instead of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and try to get a judgment there? Even if the whole Russiagate probe collapses or everyone gets pardoned, a finding of conspiracy in civil court would be highly useful politically as a way to delegitimize Trump in 2020.
Just as I’m writing that, I see that the DNC’s complaint is now online. There are 12 counts, including — ugh — RICO. Interestingly, at first blush, it looks like the DNC isn’t claiming that the hackings affected the outcome of the election, just its own ability to fundraise successfully and communicate confidentially with others. It’s strange that, since this complaint was prepared for nakedly political reasons, it wouldn’t also toss in the political argument that Russia’s active measures might have handed Trump the presidency.