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Tom Perez on DNC lawsuit: Russian and Trump campaign conspiracy ‘abundantly clear to me’

In a lawsuit filed Friday, the Democratic National Committee alleges President Trump’s campaign, WikiLeaks and the Russian government took part in a massive plot to interfere in the 2016 presidential election by releasing stolen DNC emails. Why file the lawsuit while special counsel Robert Mueller is still investigating? DNC chairman Tom Perez joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the decision.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return to the lawsuit filed by the Democratic National Committee today against President Trump's campaign, several top Trump advisers, WikiLeaks and the Russian government.

    The DNC alleges a massive a plot to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, in part by hacking the Democratic Party's computer network and by releasing stolen e-mails.

    I spoke with Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez a short time ago, and I started by asking why they filed the suit when the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller is still under way.

  • Tom Perez:

    Well, there are three reasons, Judy.

    First of all, we don't know when Director Mueller will finish his investigation. And he should take all the time he needs to do a thorough job. We have to file within a statute of limitations. And so, if we sit and wait and wait, then we're frankly committing legal malpractice.

    A year ago, when I came to the DNC, it was clear to me that we had been hacked and we had been hacked by the Russians. It was less clear to me a year ago whether there was a conspiracy between the Russians and the Trump campaign.

    It has become abundantly clear to me that there is that conspiracy. And because we have done our homework, we have filed this suit. And then, finally, Judy, I'm very concerned about the upcoming elections.

    Civil lawsuits have an important purpose of deterrence. And I hear from so many people across this country, they have hacked before, they interfered in 2016, and they're going to do it again. What are you going to do about it, Tom?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, I hear you, but to get back to the point about conspiracy, this is something that we know, again, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is looking into it. We don't know yet, the public doesn't know yet if that actually happened.

    It may appear to some people that it did, but until the dots have been connected and there is some legal basis for that, are you at risk in a lawsuit of getting ahead of what are known facts?

  • Tom Perez:

    Well, I'm very comfortable of where we are now.

    I feel we have ample evidence to demonstrate in a civil proceeding what we're doing. And we have a different burden of proof. It's a lower burden of proof in a civil case. And so I have dealt with this from the criminal side as a DOJ prosecutor, and I understand and I have great respect for the work that Director Mueller is doing.

    And we have great respect that they will continue to do the independent, thorough job that they need to do.

    But we also have — we were hacked. And they tried to cause chaos in the DNC and in the Democratic Party, and we need to seek justice in a civil case, and we need to deter.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let me ask. You won't be surprised to know that there has been a full-throated response from the Trump campaign. I'm just quoting their campaign manager who said: "This is a sham lawsuit about a bogus Russian solution claim filed by a desperate, dysfunctional and nearly insolvent Democratic Party."

  • Tom Perez:

    Well, I think they had their greatest hits of conspiracy theories.

    And, Judy, for your viewers, I think it would be interesting to go back to the Watergate era, because the DNC filed a lawsuit against the Nixon campaign back then. And the response when that lawsuit was filed was almost identical to what we saw today.

    So it seems like the Trump folks and the Nixon folks, once again, there's yet another thing that they have in common, which is these false denials of involvement.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One last question, and that is, it gets back to the Mueller investigation. Does your lawsuit, though, run the risk of politicizing something which Mr. Mueller has for the most part managed to keep away from politics?

  • Tom Perez:

    This isn't partisan. This is patriotic.

    Making sure our elections are free and fair with no foreign interference, there is nothing more important than that. You look at what General McMaster said on his way out from his service in the Trump administration.

    He said, we haven't — they have not paid a cost for their misdeeds, referring to Russia. You look at what John McCain has said. He referred to the hack as an act of war.

    And the absence of deterrence right now, I think it's incredibly important that we move forward. And the civil proceeding is something where we will be in an Article 3 court. We're not going to have a trial of Twitter. We're not going to have Devin Nunes presiding over the trial.

    I believe in the federal civil justice system. And that, is I think, a really important vehicle moving forward for us to have the truth out there. And I'm confident that the truth is going to show that there was an unholy alliance between the Trump campaign and the Russians to interfere with our 2016 election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, we thank you.

  • Tom Perez:

    Thank you.

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