WikiLeaks' lawyers have asked a Manhattan federal court judge to dismiss the DNC's lawsuit, calling it an "existential threat" to the group's constitutional protections.
"WikiLeaks's conduct – publishing truthful information of public concern as a media organisation – is protected by the First Amendment," WikiLeaks lawyer Joshua Dratel wrote in the 33-page motion uploaded by Courthouse News Service.
"Even the prospect of liability at all, much less RICO treble damages, for publication of truthful information of public interest would have a devastating chilling effect on the press's exercise of constitutionally protected speech," Dratel stressed.
"Those who have spent their careers defending journalism's role in free speech recognise that liability for a media organisation in WikiLeaks's position – publishing documents provided by whistle-blowers and others who possess them without authorisation – would set an ominous precedent that could not be contained," the lawyer added.
DNC deputy communications director Adrienne Watson dismissed WikiLeaks' warning, telling the Washington Times that the whistle-blowing group's defence was "offensive," and saying that the group had "engaged in an unlawful conspiracy with a hostile foreign power".
"Illegal activity isn't protected by the First Amendment," Watson said.
Members of the Trump campaign filed a similar complaint on Friday, accusing the DNC of using the lawsuit to try to "explain away" Hillary Clinton's 2016 defeat using the Trump-Russia-WikiLeaks conspiracy theory. The campaign also distanced itself from DNC claims, pointing out that the lawsuit does not claim that the campaign "played any part in publishing the stolen materials".
In July 2016, WikiLeaks published nearly 20,000 internal DNC emails, revealing that senior party officials did everything in their power to favour Hillary Clinton over rival Bernie Sanders. The dirty tricks included targeting Sanders' Jewish heritage, using the party's finances against him, and otherwise detracting from his campaign at the local, state and federal level. The revelations are believed to have prompted many Bernie supporters not to align with Clinton after their candidate's defeat.