Three people whose lives were upended by information contained in hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee are suing the Trump campaign and Roger Stone, alleging that they conspired with Russia and Wikileaks to release the info and do them harm. It’s an incredibly gutsy strategy to use the court process to find out, as a great man once said, “what the hell is going on.”
The lawsuit, filed by former DNC staffer Scott Comer and two donors to the DNC, Roy Cockrum and Eric Schoenberg, details the damage done to them by the Wikileaks email releases, and names the Trump campaign and Stone as defendants, based on publicly available reports indicating the Trump campaign may have coordinated the release of the emails with Russia and Wikileaks. The lawsuit is being brought on the plaintiffs’ behalf by United to Protect Democracy, a nonprofit formed by former Obama administration attorneys to “hold the President and the Executive Branch accountable to the laws and longstanding practices that have protected our democracy[.]”
While the lawsuit itself doesn’t contain any new evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia, it cites example after example of connections between figures connected with the campaign and Russia, as well as Trump administration attempts to cover up or downplay those connections. And yes, of course Donald Jr.’s meeting with a lawyer he was told represented the Russian government, and his enthusiastic “I love it” response to being told the Russian government wanted to help his dad, are cited in the suit. If a federal judge accepts that the plaintiffs have standing to sue for the damages done to them, then the discovery process for the case will require Team Trump to turn over documents and depositions to address whether the Trump campaign actually did work with the Russian effort to deploy hacked emails against Hillary Clinton, along the way doing real damage to the three plaintiffs and others. As legal demigod Dahlia Lithwick says at Slate,
[The] suit begins with the uncontroversial premise that real people were harmed in real ways by the campaign and that a court might be a good place to find out precisely what happened […]
[T]he end game here is to begin a discovery process that might muster evidence linking everything we know to everything we don’t know, and to do so outside the shadow of Congress and the executive branch. And they are counting on the fact that federal conspiracy laws will allow them to use a court itself as a way to find evidence of a conspiracy.
If it works, this is a hell of an ingenious way to force public disclosure of information about the campaign’s connections to Russia. Don Jr., your lawyers need to turn over the contents of your computer. If there aren’t any more emails between you and Russian government figures eager to help your dad, that would be some terrific exculpatory evidence, no?
The damages to the the plaintiffs certainly are real enough. After their names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and other personal information were included in the Wikileaks dumps, Cockrum and Schoenberg have both been the subject of harassment and of strangers using their information to try to get credit cards using their information. Since the information remains available on the searchable Wikileaks database, they’ll have to worry about fraud as long as the information is out there, which the suit says has resulted in “significant distress and anxiety and will require lifelong vigilance and expense.”
Scott Comer, the DNC staffer, had thousands of his emails splashed all over Wikileaks, and included information that outed him to his grandparents, who had not previously been told he was gay because they were very religious and didn’t approve of teh ghey at all. Beyond causing distress in his family, the lawsuit says that suddenly being at the center of very public, detailed picking over of the details of Comer’s private life led to the end of a romantic relationship, as well as making him a pariah among his co-workers at the DNC, where he was “marginalized and isolated” and eventually resigned. Comer was also distressed that comments taken out of context from the emails, “in which he made colloquial references about other gay individuals to friends who understood that those references were made without animus or disrespect generated press reports labeling Mr. Comer as homophobic and racist.” And then there were the harassing phone calls:
The suit argues that the release of the emails violates Washington DC’s privacy laws, as well as a Reconstruction-era federal law against conspiracies to intimidate voters from participating in the democratic process, a law put in place to prevent harassment from the KKK. Lithwick explains that the main hurdle for the case will be convincing a federal judge that there’s sufficient circumstantial evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, and between Roger Stone and Wikileaks, to “give rise to a ‘plausible’ (as compared to a merely ‘conceivable’) entitlement for relief.” A former federal prosecutor Lithwick consulted by email, Jacob W. Buchdahl, said he believes the plaintiffs have a pretty good chance, since
[Conspiracies] are never joined in plain sight; as a result, civil plaintiffs routinely plead circumstantial evidence demonstrating the defendants’ motive, opportunity, mutual benefit, and attempts to conceal their unlawful behavior.
So: Maybe this is just crazy enough to work, and the discovery process for this lawsuit will bring forward all sorts of fascinating information about the inner workings of the Trump campaign. Says Lithwick, if the standard for evidence is a “plausible” case that there’s a conspiracy to look into, then the plaintiffs have a chance: “While nothing that happens in Trumpland feels remotely believable anymore, pretty much anything feels plausible at this point.”
For his part, Roger Stone is angrily insisting the case has no merit whatsoever, because this is a man who eats breakfast with a sense of indignant outrage. In a statement emailed to the Washington Examiner, Stone not only denied the validity of the case, but threatened to get the plaintiffs’ attorneys disbarred, maybe:
There is no evidence whatsoever that I had advance knowledge of the hacking of the DNC e-mails if they were even hacked. I assume this is a publicity play and will be quickly dismissed for lack of evidence. I have instructed my attorneys to seek sanctions against the lawyers involved for the filing of a ridiculous frivolous lawsuit. The desperate maneuver of a pack of pathetic losers.
Yep, those folks who’ll have to keep watching their credit ratings forever sure are pathetic losers, you betcha. That denial, of course, is from the guy who bragged to Alex Jones that he had had “backchannel communications” with Julian Assange, whom he claimed had “political dynamite” that could be used against the Clintons.
Here’s hoping Mr. Stone has something nice to wear for his deposition. Might want to avoid those ensembles that make him look like a gangster or comic book supervillian.
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