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Clinton campaign, DNC fined over improper spending disclosure tied to Steele dossier, conservative group says

The Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign agreed to settle an FEC probe into how they characterized funding for opposition research, the group said.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton delivers remarks during the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center on July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton delivers remarks during the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center on July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia.Paul Morigi / WireImage file

The Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign have agreed to collectively pay $113,000 in fines to settle a Federal Election Commission investigation into whether they violated campaign finance laws in describing funding for opposition research on Donald Trump, according to documents posted by an attorney for the conservative group that filed the complaint.

The FEC said it found "probable cause" that the Clinton campaign and the DNC were in the wrong for "misreporting the purpose of certain disbursements," according to a letter dated Tuesday that Dan Backer, the attorney who filed the complaint in 2018, said he received from the federal election watchdog. Backer had accused the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party of illegally concealing efforts to fund opposition research that eventually led to the so-called Steele dossier.

“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,” Backer, counsel at the conservative Coolidge Reagan Foundation, said in a statement.

The Washington Examiner first reported the settlement, which Backer posted to the Coolidge Reagan Foundation website.

In documents posted to the group's site, the DNC and Clinton campaign signed what are known as conciliation agreements that stated they would pay $105,000 and $8,000, respectively, to settle the matter “expeditiously and to avoid further legal costs.”

They also agreed that they will not further contest the commission’s findings, but they did not concede any wrongdoing over allegations that they had inaccurately detailed how they used their spending.

Spokespeople for the DNC and Hillary for America did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Daniel Wessel, a DNC spokesman, said in a statement to The New York Times: “We settled aging and silly complaints from the 2016 election about ‘purpose descriptions’ in our F.E.C. report.”

In response to a request for comment, the FEC said it has up to 30 days following notification of parties in an enforcement matter to make its findings public.

Trump said in a statement that the alleged failure to disclose the research on him during the 2016 campaign was part of an effort by Clinton and the DNC to “try and take down and illegally destroy your favorite President, me.”

“This corruption is only beginning to be revealed, is un-American, and must never be allowed to happen again. Where do I go to get my reputation back?” he said.

Last week, Trump sued Clinton and several other Democrats, alleging they tried to rig the 2016 U.S. presidential election by tying his campaign to Russia.

In 2016, Perkins Coie, a law firm retained by the Clinton campaign and the DNC, paid the intelligence firm Fusion GPS for “research services” that began in April and concluded before the election in early November, according to the conciliation agreement. Former British spy Christopher Steele has been credited with compiling the controversial and largely unverified collection of claims known as the Steele dossier.

The law firm's work was characterized as providing "legal services, including with respect to potential litigation," the conciliation agreement said. It was not described as opposition research.

NBC News previously reported on the effort to fund opposition research in the Steele dossier that detailed Trump's links to Russia.

The settlement is the latest fallout over the salacious Steele dossier.

In November, Igor Danchenko, who has been described as a researcher for the dossier, was arrested on charges that he lied to FBI agents in 2017 about some of the sources of information he passed on to Steele. He has pleaded not guilty.

The arrest was the second to stem from an investigation by John Durham, the special counsel Trump’s Justice Department appointed to investigate the origins of the Russia probe. In September, prominent Democratic lawyer Michael Sussmann was charged with making a false statement to the FBI. Sussmann, who pleaded not guilty, previously worked for Perkins Coie.