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Not So Fast: Russia Lawsuit Trump Tweeted That He’d “Won” Is Now Back, Likely to Proceed

Protect Democracy Refiles Russia Conspiracy Case in Which Clapper, Brennan, Hayden, and Morrell Had Participated

July 12 — Earlier today, the nonpartisan advocacy group Protect Democracy filed a federal lawsuit against the Donald J. Trump for President Campaign alleging that it conspired with Russian agents and Wikileaks to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election. This is the same case that, days ago, President Trump tweeted (in a tweet riddled with factual errors) that he’d “won”:

The President had in fact not “won” the lawsuit. Rather, United States District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds, holding that the District of Columbia where it had been initially filed was “the wrong forum for plaintiffs’ lawsuit.” She went out of her way in issuing that ruling to state: “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.”

Protect Democracy disagreed with that ruling, but has now filed the case in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, where the Trump Campaign is incorporated and where therefore the court unquestionably has jurisdiction.

Protect Democracy Executive Director Ian Bassin said of the filing:

“President Trump may soon have to eat his words. His campaign’s conspiracy with Russia to attack our elections harmed not just our democratic process, but it injured individual patriotic Americans. And it broke the law. Our clients had their private lives hacked and dumped to the world as a result of the Trump Campaign’s conspiracy. If it could happen to them, it could happen to any of us. They want the truth, they want those responsible to be held accountable, and they want to make sure this never happens to anyone else.”  

Protect Democracy represents three American voters whose personal, private information — including their social security numbers, banking information, and personal correspondence — was dumped online after Russian agents hacked it from the servers of the Democratic National Committee.  Two of the plaintiffs had donated to the Party, and one was a staffer there. Their case, which was originally filed in July of 2017, is unrelated to a separate case that was filed by the Democratic National Committee in April of this year. The President mistakenly confused the two cases.

The plaintiffs in this case allege that the Trump Campaign conspired with Russian agents and Wikileaks to strategically disseminate the information Russia had hacked and that, in exchange, the Campaign would help Russia advance its foreign policy goals.  

A group of former national security officials who had served in administrations of both parties, led by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and former Directors of the CIA John Brennan, Michael Hayden, and Michael Morrell, had filed a brief earlier in the case highlighting Russia’s modus operandi for interfering in foreign elections — an M.O. that closely tracks the allegations made in this case.

Now that the case is in a court with clear jurisdiction, experts believe it is likely to proceed to the merits.

As the case proceeds, the plaintiffs will need to carry their burden of proof that the conspiracy existed and injured them. But at this stage, legal experts believe they have made out a more than sufficient case to get past a motion to dismiss and proceed to discovery.

That is because conspiracy cases rarely involve conspirators signing smoking gun agreements on a dotted line. Rather, the ultimate evidence that a conspiracy was agreed to is exclusively in the hands of the defendants. Courts therefore generally look for sufficient circumstantial evidence of four things at this stage of proceedings to determine whether a case may continue: (1) that the conspirators had a motive to conspire; (2) that the conspirators had an opportunity to conspire; (2) that the conspirators engaged in a mutual exchange of benefits; and (4) that the conspirators lied or took steps to hide their relationship.

  • Dean of Berkeley Law School Erwin Chemerinsky wrote: “The Protect Democracy lawsuit clearly meets these requirements and indeed presents strong claims of wrongdoing.”
  • Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe wrote: “The complaints factual allegations are deeply researched and impressively current and the legal theories underlying it are ironclad.”
  • Former Bush Administration United States Attorney John McKay wrote: “In my experience most conspiracy cases begin with circumstantial evidence just like this case. Investigation and discovery often proves it is true.”

“The evidence grows stronger every day that the Trump Campaign conspired with Russia to interfere in our democracy and until someone is held accountable, Russia’s attacks and the possibility of an ongoing conspiracy are likely to continue,” said Protect Democracy Executive Director Ian Bassin. “For all his repeated claims of ‘no collusion,’ it’s worth noting Trump (carefully?) did not deny the allegations of this case in his tweet about it. Why not, Mr. President?”

 

Today’s complaint and more information about the case can be found here: https://protectdemocracy.org/cockrum-v-trump/