Donald Trump’s campaign won the technical knockout of a lawsuit filed by two Democratic National Committee donors and a DNC staffer who accused it of colluding with Russian to publish compromising information about the Clinton campaign on WikiLeaks that included details about their lives.
U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle in Washington dismissed the year-old lawsuit in a ruling issued late Tuesday, but did so in a way that would allow the men to refile elsewhere. Hearing arguments in May, she questioned whether her court was the proper forum for the case as the Trump campaign was headquartered in New York.
“The court’s ruling does not represent a ruling on the merits of plaintiffs’ claims,” the judge wrote. “It bears emphasizing,” Huvelle said in her 45-page decision, “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.” Republican political strategist Roger Stone was also named as a defendant.
WikiLeaks published about 44,000 messages stolen from the DNC right before the July 2016 Democratic convention. The president’s campaign organization and Stone were accused of plotting with WikiLeaks and Russia to wound Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s candidacy with the release of the files.
Among the hacked emails were messages containing the Social Security numbers of donors Roy Cockrum and Eric Schoenberg, as well as messages that publicly revealed that DNC finance team staffer Scott Comer is gay, a fact he’d hidden from his grandparents and other people. They filed the lawsuit.
“This decision is not a reflection of the legal merits of the case,” Ian Bassin, executive director of Protect Democracy, said in an emailed statement via spokesman Soren Dayton. “We will consider our options and will continue to fight to ensure that our clients get the justice they deserve and that the Trump Campaign and its associates will be held accountable for their actions.” Protect Democracy is an advocacy group driving the litigation.
“Most of the meetings the plaintiffs attempt to attribute to the conspiracies did not occur in the district, but allegedly took place in New York, at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland or abroad,” the judge said. Among those gatherings, she acknowledged in a footnote, were alleged confabs between Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and Russian-Ukrainian operative Konstantin Kilimnik.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller has since obtained indictments of both men for non-campaign related offenses. Manafort has pleaded not guilty. Kilimnik has not answered the charges.