Conspiracy theories may get a lot of traction on social media, but they don’t fare nearly as well in federal court. The Democratic National Committee learned that the hard way yesterday after having their lawsuit against Donald Trump’s campaign over Russian collusion dismissed for being “entirely divorced from the facts.” Not only did the DNC not provide any evidence of collusion, the sharing of DNC e-mails after their publication is covered by the First Amendment, Judge John Koetl ruled:
A federal judge in New York on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Democratic National Committee against the Russian government, President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Wikileaks that alleged a vast, international conspiracy to tip the scales of the 2016 presidential election.
In an 81-page opinion, Judge John Koeltl wrote that the Russian government was the “primary wrongdoer” in the alleged plot to hack into the DNC’s systems and steal a trove of emails and documents. …
On Tuesday, Judge Koeltl ruled against the DNC, emphasizing that they did not allege that anyone other than the Russian government participated in the hacking of their systems, and failed to “raise a factual allegation that suggests that any of the defendants were even aware that the Russian Federation was planning to hack the DNC’s computers until after it had already done so.”
“The DNC argues that the various meetings and conversations between the defendants in this case and with persons connected to the Russian government during the time that Russian GRU agents were stealing the DNC’s information show that the defendants conspired with the Russian Federation to steal and disseminate the DNC’s materials,” Koeltl wrote. “That argument is entirely divorced from the facts actually alleged in the Second Amended complaint.”
After three years of shrieking hysteria over Russia collusion, and three years of prominent Democrats like Adam Schiff insisting that proof of it exists, the DNC couldn’t make a single proffer on it. Instead, they relied on an argument that the Trump campaign’s sharing of the information post-hack was evidence of the conspiracy pre-hack, which as Koetle concluded is simply nonsense. “While the court is required to accept the factual allegations in the Second Amended Complaint,” Koetl wrote, “it is not required to accept conclusory allegations asserted as facts.”
It’s a pretty sad end for the Russia-collusion theory. A civil suit has a lower standard of proof than a criminal prosecution, and the DNC couldn’t even muster enough to keep the judge from dismissing the complaint. Small wonder, then, that Donald Trump wasted no time declaring victory:
….vindication & exoneration from the Russian, WikiLeaks and every other form of HOAX perpetrated by the DNC, Radical Democrats and others. This is really big “stuff” especially coming from a highly respected judge who was appointed by President Clinton. The Witch Hunt Ends!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2019
That’s probably too optimistic as the focus has shifted to obstruction in Congress, but it’s still an embarrassment for those Democrats who have flogged the collusion narrative for the last two-plus years. It might, however, signal a problem for the Department of Justice in their upcoming prosecution of Julian Assange. The Wall Street Journal notes that Koetl’s ruling might signal how Assange can disentangle himself from some of the charges he faces, at least:
Judge Koeltl’s ruling addressed a central concern about press freedoms raised in another case about WikiLeaks. In May, the U.S. Justice Department charged Mr. Assange with violating the Espionage Act for an alleged effort to obtain and publish classified information about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. U.S. authorities are seeking to have Mr. Assange extradited from the U.K., where he was arrested in April.
The Department of Justice had better prepare their case against Assange better than the DoJ did. Koetl pointed to Bartnicki in ruling that publication of materials stolen by someone else is still covered under the First Amendment if the publisher didn’t participate in the theft. Even if Wikileaks directly and actively sought out the hackers to get the data, the publication would still be protected, Koetl ruled. That’s something to watch when Assange comes to court.