The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump sues Hillary Clinton, others over 2016 election he won

Donald Trump. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Former president Donald Trump filed a lawsuit Thursday against former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee and others, alleging that they “maliciously conspired to weave a false narrative” that his campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential race.

Trump claims that he incurred expenses of more than $24 million in defending himself against the accusations. He is seeking damages of three times that amount in the lawsuit, which comes more than five years after he defeated Clinton in the November 2016 election.

“Acting in concert, the Defendants maliciously conspired to weave a false narrative that their Republican opponent, Donald Trump, was colluding with a hostile foreign sovereignty,” the lawsuit states. “The actions taken in furtherance of their scheme — falsifying evidence, deceiving law enforcement, and exploiting access to highly-sensitive data sources — are so outrageous, subversive and incendiary that even the events of Watergate pale in comparison.”

Trump filed the 108-page lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, arguing that “a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the Plaintiffs’ claims occurred in this District.” Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate is in Palm Beach, Fla.

Nick Merrill, a Clinton spokesman, responded to the lawsuit with a one-word statement: “Nonsense.”

A DNC spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. More than two dozen other entities and individuals are named in the lawsuit as well.

Despite Trump’s repeated claims that he was exonerated by former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III after a two-year investigation, Mueller in 2019 said only that his team had made no determination on “collusion” and that it had not found sufficient evidence to charge any member of Trump’s campaign with criminal conspiracy.

Several Trump associates pleaded guilty to charges related to the 2016 campaign and Russia, including federal conspiracy or lying to the FBI.

And a 2020 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee portrayed Trump’s 2016 campaign as posing counterintelligence risks through its significant contacts with Russia and seeming determination to conceal the full extent of its conduct.

Trump filed the lawsuit as a long-running criminal investigation into his business appears to be foundering. Two veteran lawyers who were leading that probe quit last month in frustration at Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s reluctance to criminally charge the former president.

On Wednesday, the resignation letter by attorney Mark Pomerantz became public. He told Bragg that he believed Trump had committed multiple felonies by lying to banks and other entities about the net worth of his companies.

Investigators for both the district attorney and the New York attorney general have spent years working to determine if Trump and the Trump Organization tried to decrease tax liability by falsely minimizing asset values while trying to obtain favorable loan rates using other fake estimates.

Bragg’s predecessor, Cyrus Vance, decided late last year that he wanted to seek an indictment, people familiar with the matter have said. But Bragg, who succeeded Vance in January, had significant doubts, those people said. Bragg’s office says the investigation is continuing under new leadership.

The Trump lawsuit seems to draw heavily on indictments brought by Special Counsel John Durham, who had been tasked by then-Attorney General William P. Barr with reviewing the FBI’s 2016 investigation of Trump’s campaign. But the lawsuit often exaggerates or misstates Durham’s allegations or other facts of the case, as it seeks to portray a grand Clinton-led conspiracy to upend the Trump campaign.

The lawsuit, for example, alleges that the FBI “relying on the Defendants’ fraudulent evidence — commenced a large-scale investigation and expended precious time, resources and taxpayer dollars looking into the spurious allegation that the Trump Campaign had colluded with the Russian Government to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.”

The lawsuit takes particular aim at the now infamous dossier alleging ties between Trump and Russia, which was authored by a former British spy who had been hired by an opposition research firm working for the Clinton campaign. It also highlights an effort by a Democratically connected lawyer who sought to get the bureau to investigate possible computer connections between a Trump Organization server and a Russian financial institution known as Alfa Bank.

Durham has alleged that the lawyer, Michael Sussmann, was working on behalf of the Clinton campaign and a tech executive when he approached the bureau’s general counsel, although he claimed he was not doing so on behalf of any client.

The FBI relied on the dossier to advance its investigation of Trump’s campaign — notably using it to seek to justify a court application for secret surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser. Agents also examined the computer ties, ultimately finding nothing nefarious there.

But a Justice Department inspector general’s report found the FBI investigation of Trump’s campaign was “commenced” for another reason: A Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, had boasted to an Australian government official about the Russians potentially having dirt on Clinton, and investigators wanted to see how he would have known that.

The suit alleges that Sussmann, a lawyer with deep Democratic ties, and tech executive Rodney Joffe exploited access to nonpublic data to search for possible computer linkages between Trump entities and Russia.

Like Trump, the special counsel has alleged that Joffe “exploited” his access to data. But Trump’s suit goes further, alleging, “When it was discovered that no such channel existed, the Defendants resorted to truly subversive measures — hacking servers at Trump Tower, Trump’s private apartment, and, most alarmingly, the White House.”

Durham, the special counsel, has not alleged a “hacking” effort, and the evidence does not appear to support one.

The computer linkages at issue came from the Domain Name System, or DNS, a sort of digital phone book that matches domain names — which are typically words — to Internet addresses, which are numbers. DNS records would show when one computer communicated with another, perhaps because someone looked up a particular website, or sent an email. Joffe and lawyers for one of those involved in the research effort have insisted they legally had access to it and that it was not truly private data.

The lawyers also said that while the researchers did examine data from the Executive Office of the President, it was from the time period before Trump took office, rebutting the notion that he was somehow spied on while serving as commander in chief.

Aitan Goelman, a lawyer for Peter Strzok, who led the FBI investigation when it was first opened in 2016 and is named as a defendant, said: “We haven’t had a chance to read the complaint, but knowing the former president, there’s probably very little in there that’s true. It’s also odd that he is bringing this lawsuit at the same time that the DOJ is attempting to quash our subpoena to Trump in Pete’s case against the Department.”

Strzok was fired from the FBI in 2018 over anti-Trump text messages he exchanged. He is suing over his dismissal and has sought to depose Trump.

Michael Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general now in private practice, said in an email: “I hope Trump’s lawyers got their money up front. I hope they have something other than Fox News stories to support their allegations so they can avoid Rule 11 sanctions. And if the case ever gets to discovery, I would expect Trump’s own deposition to last days if not weeks. It would be the opportunity many have sought for the past 5 years to have him testify under oath. He’s proven in the past he’s not so good at that.”

Bromwich has represented former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe — a defendant in the lawsuit — though he said he has not yet talked with McCabe about the matter. Rule 11 is a federal rule requiring, among other things, that when lawyers make court filings, they certify that their factual representations will most likely be supported by the evidence.

Debbi Wilgoren contributed to this report.