Donald Trump and one of his attorneys have been ordered by a federal judge to pay nearly $1 million in penalties for filing a frivolous lawsuit that claimed that Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee, and other individuals who were deemed to be enemies of the former president engaged in racketeering and orchestrated a massive conspiracy against him.
The lawsuit was dismissed in September, and after one defendant requested sanctions, Trump was ordered to pay tens of thousands of dollars in November. The most recent order was issued following a separate request for sanctions made by a number of the remaining defendants, including Clinton.
The lawsuit’s judgement represents the latest legal defeat for Trump as he deals with a number of civil and criminal investigations, including the probe into his retention of sensitive documents, while some of his attorneys are being investigated for their actions in those cases.
Trump and his lead attorney, Alina Habba, were chastised by US district court judge, Donald Middlebrooks for misusing the legal system by pursuing a case that advanced his political grievances over the 2017 Russia investigation using arguments filled with misinformation and errors.
“We are confronted with a lawsuit that should never have been filed, which was completely frivolous, both factually and legally, and which was brought in bad faith for an improper purpose,” Middlebrooks wrote in the 46-page order imposing sanctions of $937,989.39 against Trump and Habba.
In the lawsuit, which Trump first brought in March 2022, it was alleged that, prior to the 2016 election, Clinton and the Democratic National Committee colluded with senior FBI officials and others to concoct ties between the Trump campaign and Russia in order to discredit him politically.
Middlebrooks, however, dropped the case after determining that Trump had engaged in a disorganised pleading that amounted to obstruction of justice and contained allegations that were known to be untrue. His legal claims, such as racketeering and conspiracy, were judged to be unfounded.
The judge pointed out, for instance, that Trump’s claims that former FBI director James Comey and Clinton conspired to prosecute him were false—Trump was never charged—and that such a conspiracy was improbable because Comey probably hurt Clinton’s 2016 campaign by reopening the inquiry into her emails.
“I find that the pleadings here were abusive litigation tactics. The complaint and amended complaint were drafted to advance a political narrative; not to address legal harm caused by any defendant,” Middlebrooks wrote of Trump’s lawsuit.
The judge also found that Trump’s allegation of racketeering and conspiracy looked to be part of a pattern by the former president of abusing the legal system by bringing baseless cases to further a political agenda.
“Misuse of the courts by Mr. Trump and his lawyers undermines the rule of law, portrays judges as partisans, and diverts resources from those who have suffered actual legal harm” he wrote.
Middlebrooks looked at other lawsuits that appeared to be politically driven and wrote that they all followed a script that included provocative rhetoric, political wording carried over from rallies, attacks on political rivals, and, often, a lack of legal analysis.
“Trump is a prolific and sophisticated litigant who is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries. He is the mastermind of strategic abuse of the judicial process,” the judge wrote. “He knew full well the impact of his actions.”
It was unclear what the sanctions order’s immediate effects would be. Trump had intended to abandon the lawsuit when it was given to Middlebrooks, a Clinton appointee, but Habba said in a Fox News interview that she had advised him to proceed nonetheless — a decision cited in the ruling.
Trump and Habba, as well as her law firm Habba, Madaio and Associates, are jointly liable for the $1 million penalty, though the former president suggested to associates that he essentially believed it should be paid by his attorney rather than him, according to persons familiar with the situation.
It was impossible to get in touch with a Trump spokesman for comment. Habba’s spokesman declined to comment.
The judge’s decision which is intended to deter future frivolous lawsuits comes on top of a $50,000 fine that was imposed in November and $16,000 in legal expenses reimbursement for Charles Dolan, a Democratic public relations executive who initiated the first sanctions request.