Lawyers for WikiLeaks asked a U.S. federal judge late Friday afternoon to dismiss a lawsuit brought on behalf of the Democratic National Committee in response to the anti-secrecy organization’s publication of internal DNC documents during the 2016 presidential race.
Defense attorneys filed documents in Manhattan federal court seeking dismissal from an expansive lawsuit initiated by the DNC in April, roughly two years after WikiLeaks began publishing leaked DNC emails allegedly sourced by Russian state-sponsored hackers.
“WikiLeaks’s conduct — publishing truthful information of public concern as a media organization — is protected by the First Amendment,” layer Joshua Dratel wrote in a 33-page motion, calling the lawsuit an “existential threat” to the group’s constitutional right.
“Those who have spent their careers defending journalism’s role in free speech recognize that liability for a media organization in WikiLeaks’s position – publishing documents provided by whistle-blowers and others who possess them without authorization – would set an ominous precedent that could not be contained,” Mr. Dratel wrote. “Moreover, imposing liability upon WikiLeaks here would exert a chilling effect on journalism and free speech, and deprive the public of an extraordinary amount of newsworthy information.”
Democrats rejected WikLeaks’s argument when reached for comment Friday evening.
“Wikileaks engaged in an unlawful conspiracy with a hostile foreign power, and illegal activity isn’t protected by the First Amendment,” Adrienne Watson, DNC deputy communications director, told The Washington Times. “Beyond being wrong on the law, WikiLeaks’ attempt to make this into a defense of press freedoms is offensive. The organization has allied itself with an autocratic regime that kills journalists, and together they helped elect a U.S. president whose hostility towards the free press has no precedent in American history.”
Lawyers for the DNC sued WikiLeaks and its publisher, Julian Assange, along with among more than a dozen other defendants accused of conspiring to illegally interfere in the 2016 election.
Attorneys for co-defendants including President Trump’s former campaign adviser Roger Stone and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, filed similar documents earlier Friday.
WikiLeaks published thousands of internal DNC emails in July 2016, months before the website began leaking private messages stolen from John Podesta, the chairman of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The Department of Justice has since determined that the leaked emails were initially sourced by Russian state-sponsored hackers during a broad interference campaign waged against and throughout the 2016 race, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office has filed criminal charges against a dozen Russian military officers accused of involvement.
The DNC’s lawsuit alleged that members of Mr. Trump’s campaign conspired with the Russian government and WikiLeaks, among others, to commit a “brazen attack on American Democracy.”
The White House has previously denied colluding with Russia with respect to the WikiLeaks releases. The matter and related items are subjects of Mr. Mueller’s ongoing probe.
Russia has denied hacking Democratic targets, and Mr. Assange has denied that his source was associated with the Russian government.
“The DNC’s lawsuit against WikiLeaks is a serious attack on press freedoms,” WikiLeaks editor in chief Kristinn Hrafnsson told The Washington Times. “The DNC does not claim WikiLeaks participated in hacking anyone. The suit claims that the scandalous emails of powerful political operatives are ‘trade secrets’ and cannot be published. If this precedent is set it will be the end of serious journalism as we know it.”