A federal judge on Thursday cast doubt on a civil lawsuit brought against the Trump campaign and Roger Stone by three Democrats who claim that election-year WikiLeaks releases destroyed their reputations.
The hearing put Trump campaign lawyers in the position of arguing in court that there was no collusion between President Donald Trump's campaign and the Russians -- a drama that played out on the one-year anniversary of special counsel Robert Mueller's criminal investigation into exactly that matter.
"We didn't possess the emails, we didn't disseminate the emails and we didn't hack the emails," said Trump campaign attorney Michael Carvin, referring to the Democratic National Committee email leak.
Carvin argued that even if there had been discussion between Russia and the Trump campaign to change the party's platform and influence voters to oppose Hillary Clinton, "that conspiracy is not about an unlawful act," he said. "That's all quite legal. It's called democracy."
Carvin's arguments also seem to preview points he could make in fighting a lawsuit brought by the Democratic National Committee against several Russian and campaign affiliates. Carvin argued Thursday that the Trump campaign shouldn't be held liable for the acts of individuals on the campaign, after the Democrats' lawyer in court pushed the possibility that George Papadopoulos' and Paul Manafort's contacts with Russian-connected individuals during the campaign, and Michael Flynn's contact afterward, helped execute a conspiracy.
Judge Ellen Huvelle was skeptical that her Washington court was the right venue for the case, noting the Trump campaign was based in New York and that the DNC recently filed its own hacking-related lawsuit in New York. Huvelle did not make a decision in the case Thursday. If it's dismissed, the Democrats wouldn't be able to engage in the fact-finding about Trump campaign discussion that they seek in this suit.
Huvelle asked the Democrats' side sharp questions about the complaint against longtime Trump ally Stone, who is also named in the suit. She pointed out that Stone left the Trump campaign a year before the hacked emails came out in July 2016 and that he does not live in Washington, where the suit was filed.
"He could be completely disreputable and a prankster, but that doesn't give me jurisdiction," Huvelle said.
Stone denies colluding with WikiLeaks or Russia. The basis of the claims against him largely comes from his own comments during the 2016 campaign, and after, where he claimed to have a back channel with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and appeared to predict some of the explosive leaks.
Two of the Democrats who filed the lawsuit last year saw their Social Security numbers exposed in the leaks. The third plaintiff claims the emails outed him as gay.
US intelligence agencies and Trump's intelligence heads say the Russian government was responsible for the DNC hack. WikiLeaks published the nearly 20,000 messages in July 2016, and Trump regularly touted the materials at his rallies.