By Mimi Nguyen Ly
A federal judge has imposed over $900,000 in sanctions on former President Donald Trump and his legal team for what the judge deemed a “continuing pattern of misuse of the courts” in Trump’s since-dismissed lawsuit against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and dozens of others.
U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks—an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton’s husband—imposed the sanctions on Thursday for what he called a “frivolous” lawsuit.
“This case should never have been brought,” the judge wrote in a 46-page order (pdf) in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, referring to the civil enforcement lawsuit that Trump filed in March 2022. Middlebrooks himself had dismissed the lawsuit back in September 2022.
Middlebrooks on Thursday ordered Trump and lead attorney Alina Habba to pay a total of $937,989.39 to cover the legal costs of the 31 defendants in the suit. In the order (pdf), Hillary Clinton received the largest award of fees for an individual defendant at $171,631.06.
The ruling comes after Hillary Clinton and other defendants in October 2022 asked the court to impose sanctions of more than $1 million over the lawsuit.
This marks the second time Middlebrooks sanctioned Trump’s lawyers in the lawsuit. The first time was in November 2022 when the judge ordered Trump’s legal team to pay one of the defendants, Charles Dolan, who had sought the sanctions.
Habba did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Middlebrooks’s order.
Lawsuit Over Russiagate Claims
Hillary Clinton was Trump’s Democrat rival who lost to him in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump in March 2022 sued her and 30 other individuals and entities—including the Democratic National Committee and former FBI officials—for having plotted, in the lead up to the election, to “weave a false narrative” that Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign was colluding with Russian actors. The civil enforcement lawsuit sought $70 million in damages.
The lawsuit said the 31 defendants were involved in creating and promoting the unverified and uncorroborated, infamous Trump-Russia dossier, and that such acts amounted to crimes including conspiracy, theft of trade secrets, and obstruction of justice.
The defendants had violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), the lawsuit argued. In an amended complaint several months later, Trump and his legal team expanded on the accusations of a conspiracy.
Middlebrooks in September 2022 dismissed Trump’s lawsuit with prejudice as to all defendants except for the United States. Trump has appealed the dismissal.
Information from the Trump-Russia dossier—also known as the Steele dossier—formed part of the material that the FBI under the Obama administration used in order to obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants to spy on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. The surveillance formed part of the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation into Trump’s 2016 election campaign and alleged Russian collusion.
The dossier was compiled by ex-British spy Christopher Steele, who was hired by opposition research firm Fusion GPS and funded by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and the DNC. Steele compiled the dossier by using second- and third-hand sources with ties to the Kremlin.
Top FBI and Department of Justice officials signed off on the FISA warrants despite evidence that the dossier was unverified and that Steele was biased against Trump. The FISA application also omitted the fact that the Clinton campaign funded the dossier, as well as exculpatory details of Page’s assistance to the FBI.
The Steele dossier claims eventually became the foundation of the Trump-Russia narrative spread by some media outlets, politicians, and Obama administration officials. But none of the 103 key allegations contained in the Steele dossier were verified during former special counsel Robert Mueller’s 22-months-long investigation.
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.