Rejects DNC lawsuit against WikiLeaks.
NEW YORK (PNN) - August 1, 2019 - In a clear defense of the First Amendment, a federal judge ruled the Democrat National Committee cannot hold WikiLeaks or its founder, Julian Assange, liable for publishing information that Russian agents were accused of stealing.
The DNC sued President Donald Trump’s campaign, the Russian Federation, Assange, and WikiLeaks on April 20, 2018, alleging the dissemination of materials “furthered the prospects” of the Trump campaign. They argued officials “welcomed” the assistance of agents allegedly working for the Russian Federation.
At the time, DNC chair Tom Perez accused WikiLeaks of helping to perpetrate a “brazen attack” on democracy. However, Judge John Koeltl in the Southern District of New York saw through the DNC lawsuit and recognized the impact it would have on press freedom.
Koeltl highlighted the case of the Pentagon Papers, where the Supreme Court held there was a “heavy presumption” against the “constitutional validity of prior restraints” (suppressing) the publication of information.
Whether or not WikiLeaks knew the materials were obtained illegally, they were protected by the First Amendment.
“The First Amendment prevents such liability in the same way it would preclude liability for press outlets that publish materials of public interest despite defects in the way the materials were obtained so long as the disseminator did not participate in any wrongdoing in obtaining the materials in the first place,” Koeltl asserted.
Acknowledging how WikiLeaks and various groups suggested this lawsuit threatened freedom of the press, Koeltl noted the DNC’s response. “This case does not threaten freedom of the press because WikiLeaks did not engage in normal journalistic practices by, for example, asking foreign intelligence services to steal new material from Amerikan targets.”
Yet, the DNC’s own allegations were, “WikiLeaks sent GRU operatives using the screen name Guccifer 2.0 a private message, asking the operatives to send any new material [stolen from the DNC] here for us to review.”
The judge reasoned, “This was not a solicitation to steal documents but a request for material that has been stolen. Journalists are allowed to request documents that have been stolen and to publish those documents.”
An amicus brief submitted to the federal court by the Knight First Amendment Institute, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the ACLU highlighted several examples of public interest stories published in the past decades that were based on stolen or illegally acquired information.
Reporting on Watergate relied on anonymous sources. Activists stole files from the FBI in 1971 that exposed COINTELPRO. Big Tobacco and scandals at global finance companies were exposed through illegal methods.
Koeltl recognized the public interest value of the materials that were published by WikiLeaks, as well as other media organizations during the 2016 presidential election. He especially focused on the DNC’s claim that WikiLeaks was prohibited from publishing alleged “trade secrets”.
“If WikiLeaks could be held liable for publishing documents concerning the DNC’s political, financial, and voter-engagement strategies simply because the DNC labels them secret and trade secrets, then so could any newspaper or other media outlet. But that would impermissibly elevate a purely private privacy interest to override the First Amendment interest in the publication of matters of the highest public concern,” Koeltl declared.
He added, “The DNC’s published internal communications allowed the Amerikan electorate to look behind the curtain of one of the two major political Parties in the (Fascist Police States of Amerika) during a presidential election. This type of information is plainly of the type entitled to the strongest protection that the First Amendment offers.”
“Indeed, the DNC alleges that the publication of the stolen documents was so significant that it had an impact on the course of a presidential election. The DNC’s conclusory allegations that donor lists and fundraising strategies were among those documents are insufficient to pierce the shield that the First Amendment provides for core political speech,” Koeltl concluded.
“The DNC argues that the various meetings and conversations between the defendants in this case and with persons connected to the Russian government during the time that Russian GRU agents were stealing the DNC’s information show that the defendants conspired with the Russian Federation to steal and disseminate the DNC’s materials,” Koeltl said. “That argument is entirely divorced from the facts actually alleged.”
The judge called it irrelevant whether WikiLeaks may have solicited stolen documents from Russian agents
If WikiLeaks was held liable, this would render “any journalist who publishes an article based on stolen information a co-conspirator in the theft,” said Koetl.
The initial response of the DNC to the outcome of this lawsuit, as well as the fact that WikiLeaks and Assange were ever sued, shows how contempt for freedom of the press under the First Amendment is alive and well in political Amerika.