Venue Dooms Conspiracy Suit Over DNC Hack

WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit claiming that ex-Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone and President Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia and WikiLeaks to release hacked Democratic National Committee emails ahead of the presidential election.

During a May 17 hearing, U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle had been skeptical that the case belonged in Washington, D.C, rather than New York. In a ruling late Tuesday, Huvelle declined to rule on the merits of the claims, saying the case belongs elsewhere.

“Plaintiffs’ own allegations suggest that defendants largely orchestrated the alleged conspiracies from New York—where the Trump Campaign was headquartered and where Trump Campaign officials met with Russian agents in May and June,” the 45-page ruling says.

The July 12, 2017, lawsuit was brought by two DNC donors — a Reagan-era foreign service officer and a former monk — along with a former DNC employee who alleged that the Trump campaign promised Russia policy concessions in exchange for disseminating the hacked emails.

The donors’ social security numbers were released with the emails while the DNC staffer claimed he was forced to resign due to the personal content of his emails.

The three had pointed to a March 2016 foreign policy meeting at the Trump hotel, where the campaign discussed changing the Republican Party’s Ukraine platform, along with a meeting with Russians in Washington, D.C., as a sufficient basis to bring the case here.

But Huvelle said that such “peripheral and tangential events occurring in the district will not establish venue.”

Ian Bassin, the executive director of Protect Democracy Project, which brought the lawsuit, expressed disappointment in the decision but vowed to press on with the claims in a July 3 statement.

“It is clear that the Court recognizes that there is sufficient evidence to suggest a conspiracy between the Trump Campaign and the Kremlin, but believes this case belongs in a different court,” Bassin said. “What today’s decision indicates is that the merits of this case will proceed somewhere.”

Indeed, Huvelle stressed in her ruling that she based her decision to dismiss the claims that Stone and the Trump campaign violated two D.C. laws and conspired to interfere with civil rights on a technical question of jurisdiction.

“It bears emphasizing this Court’s ruling is not based on a finding that there was no collusion between defendants and Russia during the 2016 presidential election,” the ruling says (emphasis in original).

Stone both formally and informally advised the Trump campaign, and has acknowledged communicating with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

He also exchanged private and public messages with alleged Russian hacker Guccifer 2.0 on Twitter. The original complaint filed nearly one year also points to media appearances and tweets by Stone that suggest he may have known ahead of time that the DNC emails would be released.

Since the May 17 hearing, Stone has also acknowledged in an interview with the Washington Post that he had contacts with a Russian national claiming to have previously worked as an FBI informant, who offered him damaging information on Hillary Clinton during a May 2016 meeting.

According to the June 17 Post story, the meeting was arranged by Trump campaign communications official Michael Caputo. The Russian, who introduced himself as Henry Greenberg, wanted $2 million for the material, which Stone says he declined.

Attorneys representing the Trump campaign with Jones Day did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the July 3 ruling.

In a statement distributed by his attorney, Grant Smith, Stone said in a statement that “fake lawsuits like this one have served to pile another lair of phony diversionary distractions onto an already substantial sediment built up from what are now years of nonstop media puffing and fluffing of the collusion hoax, which nonetheless has yet to produce a scintilla of proof of any sort of coordination, collaboration, collusion or conspiracy between Donald Trump or his campaign and the Russian state or its agents. None.”

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