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In March, Trump filed a lawsuit against Clinton and two dozen other individuals and entities, including the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Democratic lawmakers, the political opposition research firm Fusion GPS, and former FBI and Department of Justice officials. Trump’s lawsuit argued Clinton and the other defendants “maliciously conspired to weave a false narrative” that Trump had conspired with the Russian government.
Judge Donald Middlebrooks, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, threw out Trump’s lawsuit against Hillary Clinton in September. In turn, Clinton and the other defendants requested sanctions against Trump and his legal team. On Jan. 19, Middlebrooks imposed $937,989.39 in sanctions.
In a Monday filing, Trump’s legal team gave notice that he would appeal Middlebrooks’s sanctions decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Trump’s Russiagate Claims
In a 193-page amended complaint that Trump’s legal team filed in June, they argued that Clinton and the other defendants conspired to develop “spurious ‘opposition research’ claiming to reveal illicit ties between the Trump Campaign and Russian operatives.” The complaint alleges Clinton and the other team advanced the opposition research claims on multiple fronts, spreading them in both the news media and in the Department of Justice.
The Trump lawsuit claimed the Clinton-backed opposition research was promoted by “a small faction of Clinton loyalists who were well-positioned within the Department of Justice and the FBI – James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Kevin Clinesmith, and Bruce Ohr.”
“These government officials were willing to abuse their positions of public trust to advance the baseless probe to new levels, including obtaining an extrajudicial FISA warrant and instigating the commencement of an oversight investigation headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller,” the Trump team’s complaint reads. “As a result, Donald J. Trump and his campaign were forced to expend tens of millions of dollars in legal fees to defend against these contrived and unwarranted proceedings.”
The Trump team also pointed to criminal prosecutions against some of the individual defendants.
In 2020, special counsel John Durham charged Clinesmith with falsifying records used to obtain a FISA warrant extension against Carter Page, a member of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Clinesmith pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced in January 2021 to a year of probation for the offense.
At the time Trump’s team filed the initial lawsuit, Durham had open cases against two more of the defendants: Michael Sussmann and Igor Danchenko.
Sussmann was a lawyer for Perkins Coie, a law firm representing the Clinton campaign. Durham charged Sussmann with making false statements to the FBI when he brought forward claims of a communications back channel between the Trump Organization and a Russia-based bank. Durham specifically alleged Sussmann had lied to the FBI by claiming he was not bringing these allegations on behalf of any client even though he was working for Trump’s political rival at the time. A jury in a Washington D.C. federal court found Sussmann not guilty of the charges. The jury in the Sussmann case reportedly included three Clinton donors and a woman whose daughter is on the same crew team as Sussmann’s daughter.
Danchenko had been a key source for some of the opposition research claims against Trump. Durham charged Danchenko with making false statements to the FBI about his sourcing for the claims he made in the opposition research dossier against Trump. Danchenko was ultimately acquitted in October by a jury in a federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia.
Judge’s Dismissal and Sanctions
In his decision to throw out Trump’s lawsuit in September, Middlebrooks wrote that many of the claims Trump’s team raised “are implausible because they lack any specific allegations which might provide factual support for the conclusions reached.”
In their complaint, Trump’s team cited a 2019 report by the Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who found “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in their requests for FISA warrants against Trump’s team and a failure “to include exculpatory evidence in its four successful applications for surveillance warrants.” In his decision to dismiss Trump’s lawsuit, Middlebrooks faulted Trump’s team for failing to acknowledge that Horowitz said he “did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivations influenced” the FBI’s decision to launch an investigation.
Middlebrooks also faulted Trump’s team for citing from Durham’s indictment against Sussmann but leaving out Sussmann’s jury acquittal.
In his decision to sanction Trump’s legal team, Middlebrooks wrote: “This case should never have been brought. Its inadequacy as a legal claim was evident from the start. No reasonable lawyer would have filed it. Intended for a political purpose, none of the counts of the amended complaint stated a cognizable legal claim.”
Early on in their case, the Trump team had argued that Middlebrooks should recuse himself from a case involving the wife of the president who appointed him. Middlebrooks ultimately refused to disqualify himself from hearing the case.
NTD News reached out to lawyers representing Trump’s appeal, as well as Clinton’s legal team, but did not receive a response by press time.
By Ryan Morgan