MANHATTAN (CN) – The Russian Federation, WikiLeaks and Donald J. Trump for President — all three are named as defendants Friday in a federal complaint that casts the trio as partners in the cyberattack that crippled the Democratic National Committee ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Filed in the Southern District of New York, the same venue where an active criminal investigation of Trump’s personal attorney was confirmed last week, the massive lawsuit hurls a dozen charges against at least 15 people and entities, including Donald Trump Jr. and five key players from the the president’s former campaign team: Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos and Roger Stone.
The mammoth lawsuit itemizes alleged and admitted criminality among that crew in an ongoing investigation by Department of Justice special counsel Robert Mueller, which already has netted an indictment against Manafort, as well as guilty pleas from Gates and Papadopoulos.
“The Trump campaign was a racketeering enterprise,” one subsection of the 66-page complaint declares.
Papadopolous acknowledged in October that he lied about his Russia contacts, whereas Gates copped a plea deal while maintaining his innocence in February.
Still fighting his charges, Manafort pleaded not guilty earlier this year and had a federal hearing Friday to attempt to dismiss the counts against him by attacking the scope of Mueller’s authority.
Represented by the firm Cohen Milstein, the DNC alleges that the enterprise began with a coordinated effort between WikiLeaks, Trump’s associates, and Russian-linked intelligence operatives and oligarchs to swing the election.
“The conspiracy constituted an act of previously unimaginable treachery: the campaign of the presidential nominee of a major party in league with a hostile foreign power to bolster its own chance to win the presidency,” the complaint states.
Alan Futerfas, an attorney for Trump Jr. and the Trump Organization, did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations.
After a day of a radio silence, Trump responded to the lawsuit in his signature style: via Twitter.
“Just heard the Campaign was sued by the Obstructionist Democrats,” he tweeted. “This can be good news in that we will now counter for the DNC Server that they refused to give to the FBI, the Wendy Wasserman Schultz Servers and Documents held by the Pakistani mystery man and Clinton Emails.”
Apparently mistaking the former DNC chief with a late feminist playwright, Trump tweeted an amalgam of the names of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and “The Heidi Chronicle” scribe Wendy Wasserstein. The president then deleted the original tweet to correct his error.
President Trump is not a party to the complaint, which also takes aim at Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate and Guccifer 2.0, identified here as the hacker who penetrated the DNC’s computers and passed off its contents to WikiLeaks.
The website founded by Australian-born Julian Assange has been off the grid since London’s Ecuadorean Embassy cut off Assange’s lines of communications more than three weeks ago. They could not be reached by press time.
According to the DNC, three Russian-tied power players rounded out the conspiracy: Trump’s Miss Universe contact Aras Agalarov, an Azeri oligarch who is a close ally of President Vladimir Putin; his pop-singer son Emin Agalarov, a central figure in a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower; and academic Joseph Mifsud, who met with Papadopoulos several times that year.
The same month as the meeting involving the younger Agalarov, Kushner “took over all data-driven efforts” for the Trump campaign, the DNC says.
According to the complaint, the effort included setting up a 100-person “data hub” in San Antonio, Texas, and hiring Cambridge Analytica, the same analytics firm under fire for a massive data breach on Facebook.
Politico reported that Kushner relied heavily upon Facebook, and conservative conglomerate Sinclair Broadcasting, to amplify the Trump campaign’s message free of editorial interruption.
The DNC says several Russian military operatives in the scheme are as-yet unidentified.
Claiming that the conspiracy began mere weeks after Trump announced his candidacy, the DNC says that allied European intelligence services “began reporting suspicious communications between Trump associates and Russian operatives to their U.S. counterparts” within months.
The next year, according to the complaint, the Trump campaign learned directly from individuals tied to the Kremlin that Russia intended to meddle in the election.
“Through multiple meetings, emails, and other communications, these Russian agents made clear that their government supported Trump and was prepared to use stolen emails and other information to damage his opponent and the Democratic party,” the complaint states.
“Rather than report these repeated messages that Russia intended to interfere with U.S. elections, the Trump campaign and its agents gleefully welcomed Russia’s help,” it continues. “Indeed, the Trump Campaign solicited Russia’s illegal assistance, and maintained secret communications with individuals tied to the Russian government, including one of the intelligence agencies responsible for attacking the DNC.”
Demanding triple damages under federal anti-racketeering law, the committee also brought charges for violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the Wiretap Act, and several other state and federal laws.
Seeking declaratory relief as well, the DNC wants a federal judge to find that Trump’s associates, the Russian government and others “conspired to and did engage in a common scheme to effect the illegal and unauthorized hacking” of its computers, and then used the stolen information “to impact the 2016 election for their own gain.”
The committee also wants unauthorized access to its networks enjoined, as well as a block against the sale, publication or distribution of its contents.
Such an order, if granted, would demand that WikiLeaks shut down its still active DNC database, consisting of more than 44,000 emails with more than 17,000 attachments.
Press freedom advocates have already expressed concern over the potential ramifications of the relief the Democratic committee is seeking.
Highlighting a passage of the lawsuit labeling each WikiLeaks release an act of “economic espionage,” the Freedom of the Press Foundation’s executive director Trevor Timm tweeted: “If it actually was accepted by a judge/jury, countless journalists would be liable for all sorts of campaign-related reporting in the future.”
With former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden on the board of directors, the press-freedom watchdog once processed tax-exempt donations for WikiLeaks until after the 2016 presidential elections. The foundation ceased that service late last year, calling its continued financial support unnecessary now that a financial blockade against WikiLeaks by major credit card companies has ended. But reporting by the Daily Beast showed deep apprehension within the nonprofit’s board of directors about reports of election meddling.
Recognizing that Assange is currently “unpopular,” Timm urged the public to consider the long-term consequences of targeting him under such statutes as the Wiretap Act.
“Sure looks like this theory – if accepted by the court – would also apply to every single newspaper [that] published any information from the DNC leaks,” he tweeted.
In a flurry of late-day filings, the DNC requested issuing summonses to the dozen defendants. None of the defendants registered a docket entry by press time.