Russia Declares ‘Absolute Immunity’ in DNC’s Election Interference Lawsuit

Vladimir Putin’s government on Friday filed its first formal response to the Democrats’ election interference lawsuit, asserting “sovereign immunity” from any action in U.S. courts. “The Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation has the honor to convey the enclosed Statement of Immunity by the Russian Federation as to the allegations … by the Democratic National Committee,” reads a letter received by U.S. District Judge John Koeltl, who’s overseeing the DNC’s lawsuit in New York.

The letter is signed by Mikhail Vinogradov, the Russian ministry’s director of international law and cooperation, and includes a 12-page legal analysis arguing that international convention and the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act bar the courts from getting involved in diplomatic and political matters, including computer intrusions by another government’s military. “Indeed, the United States benefits significantly from the sovereign immunity that it enjoys (and U.S. officials enjoy) in foreign courts around the world with respect to the United States’ frequent acts of cyber intrusion and political interference,” reads the filing.  

The DNC filed its lawsuit in April in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, and amended it last month.  The complaint alleges racketeering, conspiracy, and other wrongdoing by dozens of individuals and organizations with a common interest in electing Donald Trump and defeating Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, including the Russian government and the GRU—the Russian military intelligence agency behind the computer intrusions and resultant leaks that tentposted Russia’s 2016 election interference. The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensation for “all damages and losses” suffered by the DNC as a result of the intrusion and leak—a number that could easily climb into the millions.

In its filing, Russia says that any “alleged ‘military attack,’” even online, is immune from the courts. “Significantly, neither the Executive nor the U.S. Congress has taken any steps to involve the Judicial Branch in their response” to the election interference, the filing claims, evidently overlooking Robert Mueller’s July indictment against 12 GRU officers who allegedly carried out the attacks.

—Kevin Poulsen