A federal judge in Florida has dismissed former President Donald Trump's sprawling racketeering lawsuit against Hillary Clinton and other perceived political enemies such as former FBI Director James Comey and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., blasting it as a 200-page "political manifesto outlining his grievances against those that have opposed him."
What the suit "lacks in substance and legal support it seeks to substitute with length, hyperbole, and the settling of scores and grievances," Judge Donald Middlebrooks said in a scathing 65-page ruling released Thursday night.
Trump filed the suit charging a massive conspiracy involving Clinton, who was the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016, the Democratic National Committee, and numerous others who it alleged conspired against him to orchestrate what he's referred to as the "Russia hoax" — an investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia and the Russian government's efforts to aid his campaign.
The defendants, "blinded by political ambition, orchestrated a malicious conspiracy to disseminate patently false and injurious information about Donald J. Trump and his campaign, all in the hopes of destroying his life, his political career and rigging the 2016 presidential election in favor of Hillary Clinton,” the suit alleged.
The judge said Trump's "theory of this case, set forth over 527 paragraphs in the first 118 pages of the amended complaint, is difficult to summarize in a concise and cohesive manner. It was certainly not presented that way. Nevertheless, I will attempt to distill it here. The short version: Plaintiff alleges that the defendants “[a]cting in concert ... maliciously conspired to weave a false narrative that their Republican opponent, Donald J. Trump, was colluding with a hostile foreign sovereignty.”
The judge said the defendants called Trump's allegations “a series of disconnected political disputes that plaintiff has alchemized into a sweeping conspiracy among the many individuals plaintiff believes to have aggrieved him.” They argued that whatever its use " 'as a fundraising tool, a press release, or a list of political grievances, it has no merit as a lawsuit.' I agree," Middlebrooks wrote.
"A complaint filed in federal court must contain 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,'" Middlebrooks added, and Trump's complaint "is neither short nor plain, and it certainly does not establish that plaintiff is entitled to any relief. More troubling, the claims presented in the amended complaint are not warranted under existing law. In fact, they are foreclosed by existing precedent, including decisions of the Supreme Court."
Trump lawyer Alina Habba said in a statement, "We vehemently disagree" with the ruling, which is "rife with erroneous applications of the law."
"We will immediately move to appeal this decision," Habba said.
A lawyer for Clinton did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of Florida courthouse where Judge Aileen Cannon sits. Cannon is the Trump appointee overseeing the former president's action against the Justice Department demanding a special master review documents that were seized in an FBI search of his Florida resort last month.
Trump was apparently hoping the lawsuit would go to Cannon, but it wound up being assigned to Middlebrooks, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton. Trump argued that Middlebrooks should recuse himself because of the Clinton connection, but Middlebrooks denied that request in April.
"I have never met or spoken with Bill or Hillary Clinton. Other than my appointment by Bill Clinton, I do not now have nor have I ever had any relationship with the Clintons," he wrote.
Middlebrooks noted that Trump "filed this lawsuit in the Fort Pierce division of this district, where only one federal judge sits: Judge Aileen Cannon, who plaintiff appointed in 2020. Despite the odds, this case landed with me instead." He also pointed out that Trump has had a number of cases before judges he's appointed.
"[W]hen plaintiff is a litigant before a judge that he himself appointed, he does not tend to advance these same sorts of bias concerns," Middlebrooks wrote.
In his order Thursday, the judge found that Trump waited too long to file suit on his racketeering allegations and that, regardless, there wasn’t evidence to back up the claim. Other of Trump’s allegations didn’t make sense, the judge said, including one involving the FBI’s initial probe into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, which was called Crossfire Hurricane.
“Perplexingly, plaintiff appears to argue that the defendants obstructed investigation Crossfire Hurricane by contributing to the initiation of Crossfire Hurricane. That defendants could have obstructed a proceeding by initiating it defies logic," Middlebrooks wrote.
The suit also charged former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and various FBI employees, including frequent Trump targets Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, with "malicious prosecution."
"But plaintiff was never prosecuted," the judge noted, and the only civil claim is for "malicious prosecution, not malicious investigation."
Trump also "does not plausibly allege that any supposed falsehoods actually damaged his political career: as plaintiff knows, he — not defendant Clinton — won the 2016 presidential election."