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Judge dismisses Trump lawsuit against Hillary Clinton over 2016 election

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton arrives for the New York premiere of the Apple TV Plus docuseries “Gutsy” on Sept. 8. (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)

A federal judge in Florida has dismissed Donald Trump’s lawsuit against former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, saying there was no basis for the former president to claim that Clinton and her allies harmed him with an orchestrated plan to spread false information that his campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential race.

Trump “is seeking to flaunt a two-hundred-page political manifesto outlining his grievances against those that have opposed him, and this Court is not the appropriate forum,” Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks of the Southern District of Florida wrote in a scathing 65-page ruling dated Thursday. The judge also wrote about “the audacity of Plaintiff’s legal theories and the manner in which they clearly contravene binding case law.”

Middlebrooks noted “glaring structural deficiencies in the plaintiff’s argument” and said that “such pleadings waste judicial resources and are an unacceptable form of establishing a claim for relief.”

Trump’s lawsuit, filed in March, took aim at Clinton and a coterie of Democratic allies, including Christopher Steele, a former British spy hired by an opposition research firm working for the Clinton campaign who compiled a now-infamous dossier alleging ties between Trump and Russia. Trump’s lawsuit claimed that he had incurred expenses of more than $24 million defending himself against the accusations and sought damages equivalent to three times that amount.

More than two dozen entities and individuals, including the Democratic National Committee, were named in the lawsuit, which came more than five years after Trump defeated Clinton to claim the presidency.

The lawsuit also claimed that the defendants had falsified evidence, deceived law enforcement officials and exploited their access to highly sensitive data sources.

“What the Amended Complaint lacks in substance and legal support it seeks to substitute with length, hyperbole, and the settling of scores and grievances,” Middlebrooks wrote.

The ruling was a victory for Clinton, who in April had asked the judge to dismiss the case, saying, “Whatever the utility of Plaintiff’s Complaint as a fundraising tool, a press release, or a list of political grievances, it has no merit as a lawsuit, and should be dismissed with prejudice.”

David E. Kendall, an attorney for Clinton, issued a one-sentence statement Friday: “The court’s opinion meticulously and comprehensively devastates Trump’s allegations.”

In doing just that, Middlebrooks criticized the quality of the legal work presented by Trump’s attorneys.

“Many of the Amended Complaint’s characterizations of events are implausible because they lack any specific allegations which might provide factual support for the conclusions reached,” Middlebrooks wrote.

The judge cited as an example the lawsuit’s claim that former FBI director James B. Comey, senior officials in the agency and then-Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein “overzealously targeted” Trump and his campaign by appointing a special counsel to investigate the role Russia played in the 2016 election.

Trump’s attorneys also presented citations to bolster their argument that were simply not true, the judge wrote. The lawsuit claims Clinton and top campaign officials conceived of and carried out the plot against Trump and hid their involvement “behind a wall of third parties,” and it cites a specific page of a report from the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General.

“I went to page 96 of the Inspector General’s Report looking for support for Plaintiff’s conclusory and argumentative statement but found none,” the judge wrote. Trump’s lawyers can disagree with the report, Middlebrooks wrote, “but they cannot misrepresent it in a pleading.”

Alina Habiba, an attorney for Trump, said in a statement that his lawyers “vehemently disagree” with the ruling and that it was “rife with erroneous applications of the law.” Habiba also said they will appeal the decision.

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’s lawsuit also focuses on the work of Michael Sussmann, who worked on behalf of the Clinton campaign and who sought to get the FBI to investigate possible computer connections between a Trump Organization server and a Russian financial institution known as Alfa Bank.

But the lawsuit failed to note that Sussmann had been acquitted of wrongdoing in a separate case, Middlebrooks wrote. In filing their lawsuit, Middlebrooks said, Trump’s attorneys “certified to the court” that to the best of their knowledge their arguments were legally sound and not frivolous. “I have serious doubts about whether that standard is met here,” the judge wrote.

As for Steele, Middlebrooks wrote that despite the numerous references to him in Trump’s lawsuit, “none specifically attribute any false statement about Plaintiff to him.”

Later, the judge took a shot at what he said was the lawsuit’s sweeping attempt to criminalize criticism of Trump, writing: “Neither politically opposing Plaintiff, disliking Plaintiff, nor engaging in political speech about Plaintiff that casts him in a negative light is illegal.”

Middlebrooks also highlighted the difference between being in conflict with Trump and causing him harm: “Opposing Plaintiff’s presidential campaign does not amount to a realized pecuniary loss. Statements to law enforcement or comments made in a political campaign are not intended to induce others not to deal with Plaintiff or his business, or to cause direct or immediate financial loss.”

“Moreover,” he added later, “many of the statements that Plaintiff characterizes as injurious falsehoods qualify as speech plainly protected by the First Amendment.”

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