By Zachary Stieber
Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) likely violated federal law by not accurately describing payments made to a law firm that funneled the money to ex-British spy Christopher Steele, federal officials have ruled.
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) determined that there was probable cause to believe that the Clinton campaign and its treasurer, Elizabeth Jones, and the DNC and its treasurer, Virginia McGregor, misreported the purpose of certain spending and violated federal law, according to documents made public on March 30.
The probable violations concern the $1 million payment that the law firm Perkins Coie, retained by the parties to provide legal services ahead of the 2016 election, made in 2016 to the company Fusion GPS.
The Clinton campaign paid $175,000 to Perkins Coie in mid-2016 for what it described in disclosure reports as “legal services.” The DNC paid $849,407 to the law firm at roughly the same time for what it described as “legal and compliance consulting.”
Federal law requires political campaigns to report the name and address of each person that they pay more than $200 per year and define the purpose of the payment.
Complaints lodged with the FEC stated that the Hillary for America campaign (HFA) and the DNC stated in 2018 that the parties made sure to hire operatives through Perkins Coie to shield their conduct from scrutiny.
“By intentionally obscuring their payments through Perkins Coie and failing to publicly disclose the true purpose of those payments, HFA and the DNC were able to avoid publicly reporting on their statutorily required FEC disclosure forms the fact that they were paying Fusion GPS to perform opposition research on Trump with the intent of influencing the outcome of the 2016 presidential election,” the Coolidge Reagan Foundation stated in one complaint.
The foundation released the FEC’s determination on March 30 ahead of the agency’s own release of the documents. An FEC spokesperson didn’t dispute the authenticity of the documents.
“The FEC has up to 30 days following notification of the parties to an enforcement matter to prepare and place the relevant documents on the public record,” the spokesperson told The Epoch Times in an email. “Until then, we cannot provide comment or disclose any information.”
Instead of going toward the purposes listed on disclosure forms, the payments actually went to fund the creation of the infamous dossier compiled by Steele—an ardent opponent of Clinton’s rival Donald Trump—with the assistance of Fusion operatives.
Perkins Coie acknowledged the arrangement in a letter (pdf) sent to Fusion in 2017 and published by media outlets.
The dossier was rife with salacious, unsubstantiated claims, many of which have since been debunked by federal officials, including Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
The FEC found probable cause that the payments were misreported. That prompted the Clinton campaign and the DNC to agree to enter into conciliation agreements with the FEC.
The agreements stipulate that the parties will pay penalties—$8,000 for Clinton’s campaign and $105,000 for the DNC—and won’t violate the laws that they appear to have violated in the future.
The commission, upon the request of anyone filing a proper complaint concerning the matters at issue, may review compliance with the laws. If there’s a belief that any of the laws are being violated, a civil action may be started in federal court.
Trump filed a lawsuit against Clinton and others involved with the dossier on March 24.
The campaign and the DNC didn’t admit to wrongdoing. The parties didn’t respond to requests for comment.
“This may well be the first time that Hillary Clinton—evidently one of the most corrupt politicians in American history—has actually been held legally accountable, and I’m proud to see the FEC do its job for once,” Dan Backer, counsel for Coolidge Reagan, who authored the FEC complaint, said in a statement. “Let’s hope this is only the beginning for accountability, not the end.”
DNC officials have said before that the party didn’t know about the arrangement between Perkins Coie and Fusion. Brian Fallon, a former spokesman for the Clinton campaign, said he wished he had known about the payments to Steele because he would have volunteered to go help him. Fallon has also said Clinton “may have known” about the research, but “the degree of exactly what she knew is beyond my knowledge.”
The FEC also determined that others didn’t violate federal laws: Steele, Fusion, Perkins Coie, and former Perkins Coie attorney Marc Elias.