Lawyers for critics suing President Donald Trump’s campaign over its alleged involvement in the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails urged a federal judge in Virginia Thursday to reject a bid by the campaign to have the lawsuit thrown out.
The Trump campaign met the suit earlier this year with an eyebrow-raising claim: that Trump’s presidential bid had the legal right under the First Amendment to disseminate emails that were stolen by others.
However, attorneys pressing the case argued in a new brief filed Thursday that the Trump campaign’s assertions about First Amendment protections are a diversion because its alleged involvement in the hacking and the dissemination of private information about Democratic donors went well beyond anything permitted by law.
“As the publicly known evidence of a conspiracy has become overwhelming, the Campaign has pivoted from denying coordination with the Kremlin to claiming that such collusion is not a crime,” lawyers with the Trump-focused watchdog group United to Protect Democracy wrote on behalf of the plaintiffs, who contend they were harmed by publication of their social security numbers, medical information and details of private interactions with co-workers.
Trump’s campaign has argued that as long as some part of the DNC emails dumped into the public sphere were newsworthy, publication of the entire raft is protected by the First Amendment, but lawyers for the Trump critics say that’s incorrect.
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“Adopting the Campaign’s novel rule would declare open season on the private communications of every political, public interest, media, and corporate organization in existence. Any future privacy violator could be certain to avoid liability for dumping enormous amounts of information onto the Internet because something in there will be of public concern. The intimate details of every American’s private life would then become fair game,” the attorneys wrote. “The First Amendment does not require such a result.”
The lawyers also urge the court to turn down the Trump campaign’s suggestion that letting the suit proceed could chill political activity.
“This case is about private information that happened to belong to donors and campaign aides,” the Trump opponents’ attorneys wrote. “Allowing civil liability neither ‘hampers the ability of a party [or candidate] to spread its message [nor] hamstrings voters seeking to inform themselves about the candidates and the campaign issues….To the contrary, it is the Campaign’s position that chills political speech, because a license to publicize the private information of anyone who participates in elections will discourage people from participating.”
The plaintiffs in the suit are two DNC donors, Roy Cockrum and Eric Schoenberg, and former DNC finance official Scott Comer.
Lawyers for the three men filed a similar suit in federal court in Washington last year, but in July U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle ruled that the court lacked “personal jurisdiction” over the campaign because its ties to the nation’s capital were limited. She emphasized that her ruling was a technical one.
“It bears emphasizing that this Court’s ruling is not based on a finding that there was no collusion between defendants and Russia during the 2016 presidential election,” wrote Huvelle, an appointee of President Bill Clinton. “This is the wrong forum for plaintiffs’ lawsuit. The Court takes no position on the merits of plaintiffs’ claims.”