Old School Ties: Donald Trump Sues Hillary Clinton and Many of Her “Cohorts”
On March 24, 2022, as an anxious world hoped for positive results from a NATO meeting convened to address the ongoing war in Ukraine, former President Donald Trump sought to redress the harm he believes was done to him by Hillary Clinton “and her cohorts” in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, an election he ultimately won. In order to accomplish that, he’s brought a civil lawsuit against her, her campaign, certain of her campaign officials, a number of former government and law enforcement officials, and the Democratic National Committee. The suit was filed in federal district court for the Southern District of Florida because Trump’s principal place of residence is in Palm Beach, and several of the other defendants have ties to the state.
The action was filed and signed by Peter Ticktin, a Florida attorney who attended the New York Military Academy with Trump when both were teenagers. In 2020, Ticktin wrote a 160-page book about his friendship with the future president called What Makes Trump Tick. My Years with Donald Trump from New York Military Academy to the Present.
After military school, Ticktin went on to college and a career in law in Canada before moving to Florida and obtaining a second law degree from the University of Miami Law School. He’s since practiced in a variety of areas and says he “remains as young and vigorous as President Trump.”
Ticktin was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1991. In the biography associated with the publication of his book, he describes a number of successful cases. But in 2008, he unsuccessfully appealed a disciplinary action from the Bar Association that resulted in a 91-day suspension. In its decision, the Florida Supreme Court noted that “Ticktin’s blatant disregard for the rules governing conflicts of interest reflects his poor professional judgment. Ticktin’s misconduct is unbecoming of a member of The Florida Bar, and such misconduct will not be taken lightly by this Court.” Subsequently, Ticktin was once again suspended, that time for 15 days, and in 2010, he was investigated by the Bar in connection with an alleged scheme involving second mortgages. Since that time, his record has been unblemished.
The new lawsuit revives many of the grievances Trump aired in 2016 and has been airing ever since, despite his victory that year. It isn’t hard to imagine Trump, who in military school had been company captain to Ticktin’s platoon sergeant, discussing those issues with his junior over dinner at Mar-a-Lago, and eventually plotting the outline of the legal action.
The suit names 21 individual defendants—beginning, of course, with Hillary Clinton—seven corporate defendants, 10 John Does, and 10 ABC Corporations. There is only one plaintiff: Donald J. Trump. Though the chronology is confusing at times, it has mostly to do with the months before the 2016 election, when:
Hillary Clinton and her cohorts orchestrated an unthinkable plot – one that shocks the conscience and is an affront to this nation’s democracy. Acting in concert, the Defendants maliciously conspired to weave a false narrative that their Republican opponent, Donald J. Trump, was colluding with a hostile foreign sovereignty. The actions taken in furtherance of their scheme—falsifying evidence, deceiving law enforcement, and exploiting access to highly-sensitive data sources – are so outrageous, subversive and incendiary that even the events of Watergate pale in comparison.
The reference is to what came to be called “Russiagate” by many and “the Russia Hoax” by Trump himself. It began with the January 2017 appearance of the “Steele Dossier,” a collection of mostly fragmentary reports, some of them salacious, evidently gathered from a variety of sources. The information had been collected by Christopher Steele, a former agent of Britain’s MI6 who now has a private investigation firm. (Parts of the dossier had been circulated to some politicians and journalists as early as September 2016 but were not widely publicized at that time.)
Another purported link between Trump and Russia had to do with Alfa Bank. Though recently sanctioned in connection with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Alfa is the nation’s largest privately-owned financial institution and fourth-largest financial institution. In October 2016, news broke of a strange series of electronic communications between the Trump Organization and the bank. No actual messages were involved; Alfa simply pinged a Trump mail server. The story is complicated; it hasn’t yet been fully resolved, and that may never happen. The matter was, however, investigated by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which produced a lengthy report that became available in 2020 thanks to a lawsuit brought by Alfa Bank.
An exhaustive explanation of what’s known, what’s not known, and what’s currently on the table was offered by Brian Krebs, a cybersecurity expert who once wrote for the Washington Post on his own website on September 23, 2021. Alfa Bank itself has filed two John Doe suits, the Department of Justice may file more indictments, and we now have Trump’s new action, with its large number of defendants. As we shall see, the matter is of interest to John Durham now and was of interest to some prominent Democrats during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The Mueller Investigation
The Steele dossier and the Alfa Bank affair led Democrats to suspect that Trump had nefarious connections to the Russian government that could compromise not only his presidency but the United States’ national security. At the time Trump took office, James Comey was director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI had already begun an investigation it called “Crossfire Hurricane.” In early 2017, newly-appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from any matter involving Russia since he’d had multiple contacts with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak in 2016. His replacement in those matters was Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who decided to continue the FBI’s investigation by naming a special prosecutor. For that role, he chose former FBI director Robert Mueller and named him to the post on May 17, 2017, just a week after Trump, who disliked and distrusted Comey, had fired him.
The stated purpose of the investigation was to examine possible Russian attempts to disrupt the 2016 investigation, possible coordination between associates of Trump and Russia, and whether financial crimes were committed by any of the new president’s associates. It also looked into whether Trump had attempted to obstruct justice.
The Mueller Investigation wrapped up on March 22, 2019. In the end, it found no evidence that Trump’s campaign had actually colluded with Russia. On the question of obstruction of justice, Mueller wrote that “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
A number of indictments were forthcoming. On February 16, 2018, 13 Russian nationals and three companies were charged with using fraud and deceit to interfere in the 2016 election, creating hundreds of social media accounts designed to look as if they were owned by Americans.
On July 13, 2018, the Department of Justice indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The DOJ alleges that the individuals targeted more than 300 people associated with the Democratic campaign.
On October 30, 2017, charges were brought against Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, and Manafort’s former business partner Rick Gates on counts related to money laundering, tax evasion, and foreign lobbying. Gates got lucky; after some initial bad behavior, he agreed to cooperate, and in December 2019, he was sentenced to 45 days’ incarceration and three years’ probation. The sentence was suspended in April 2020 because of the COVID pandemic. Manafort got much more time—7.5 years—in part because he’d broken a cooperation agreement he’d signed and was sent to prison. In May 2020, he was released to home confinement thanks to COVID. Trump pardoned him for all his crimes, which were mounting up, in December 2020. But he’s evidently not finished: in March 2022, he was removed from a Miami-Dubai flight for attempting to travel on a revoked passport. What’s happened since is not yet known.
Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian citizen, was indicted on June 8, 2018, on charges of assisting Manafort, who was trying to elect Viktor Yanukovych, president of Ukraine. Investigators alleged Kilimnik and Manafort lied to them about what they were up to.
Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, pled guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI. He cooperated with Mueller but was pardoned by Trump in November 2020.
Michael Cohen, one of Trump’s personal attorneys, pled guilty in November 2018. He was released from prison in 2020 because of COVID.
Roger Stone was arrested on seven criminal charges on January 25, 2019, in a pre-dawn raid conducted by the FBI. He was sentenced to 40 months of incarceration, but before he could report to prison, Trump commuted his sentence and then, on December 23, 2020, gave him a full pardon.
Minor players George Papadopoulos, Alex van der Zwaan, and Richard Pinedo were charged for their roles but got off lightly.
From start to finish, Trump was very angry about the Mueller investigation and referred to it as a “witch hunt.”
The Durham Investigation
Trump’s anger did not subside once the Mueller report appeared and failed to accuse the president of any crimes. Jeff Sessions’ recusal from matters concerning Russia had infuriated Trump, and Sessions became less and less acceptable to him as Attorney General. He indicated Sessions should resign, and on November 7, 2018, Sessions obliged. He was succeeded by William Barr. In response to Trump’s demands for a new probe, he asked Connecticut’s U.S. Attorney John Durham to see if he could find out how the original FBI investigation began. Durham is an experienced U.S. attorney known for his work on organized crime and public corruption cases.
Durham has had little to say about his investigation since it began. But that was not the case for Bill Barr. Until his abrupt resignation in December 2020, he commented about Durham’s work expansively and often in interviews with print and television journalists. Some critics, like the attorneys at Lawfareblog, feel Barr went too far: “He knows what he is doing is contrary to the rules and traditions of the Justice Department. He knows he is doing reputational harm to people nominally under investigation… In short, Barr has acted in ways that foreseeably politicize and damage the investigation that he initiated and has devoted so much time to. The question is: Why?”
We may never know. Barr hasn’t been explicit about the matter since his resignation. But it seems at least possible that, rightly or wrongly, he made statements about the Durham investigation, so Trump didn’t have to. Because, unsurprisingly, he was concerned about what Trump might come up with. If so, his concern was justified. On February 15, the Washington Post’s fact-checker Glenn Kessler explained, in an article called “Here’s why Trump once again is claiming ‘spying’ by Democrats.”
In a statement posted on Twitter by his assistant Liz Harrington on February 12, Trump proclaimed:
The latest pleading from Special Counsel Robert [sic] Durham provides indisputable evidence that my campaign and presidency were spied on by operatives paid by the Hillary Clinton Campaign in an effort to develop a completely fabricated connection to Russia. This is a scandal far greater in scope and magnitude than Watergate and those who were involved in and knew about this spying operation should be subject to criminal prosecution. In a stronger period of time in our country, this crime would have been punishable by death. In addition, reparations should be paid to those in our country who have been damaged by this.
As Kessler points out, initially, Trump falsely accused Barack Obama of spying on him from the White House and then switched to accusing Clinton by a process that isn’t clear. But in any case, it seems he’s now seized on John Durham’s indictment of Michael Sussmann, along with a subsequent filing in that case. It is the subsequent filing—a suggestion by Durham that the judge in the Sussmann case might want to ask Sussmann and his attorneys about potential conflicts of interest—that caught the interest of Trump and of a number of his supporters.
This motion to inquire into potential conflicts of interest was filed on February 11, 2022, the day before Liz Harrington released Trump’s statement. Sussmann was, at that time and earlier, represented by Latham & Watkins LLP. Latham had, according to the filing, represented others involved in the Durham investigation. The motion says nothing about “spying” or “operatives.” The allegations against Sussmann, as described in the September indictment, are that he went to the FBI in October 2016 with information about what he thought might be a connection between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, as noted above. During the meeting, Durham discovered, “SUSSMANN lied about the capacity in which he was providing the allegations to the FBI. Specifically, SUSSMANN stated falsely that he was not doing his work on the aforementioned allegations ‘for any client,’ which led the FBI General Counsel to understand that SUSSMANN was acting as a good citizen merely passing along information, not as a paid advocate or political operative.”
In fact, none of the indictments handed down in the Durham investigation—there are only three to date, and all three defendants have been charged with lying to the FBI—has referenced “spying,” much less anything that might be construed as warranting the death penalty.
To strip some of the mystery from the Sussmann indictment, the “researchers” referenced in the indictment were allegedly hired by “Tech Executive-1,” who was later identified as Rodney Joffe, an internet entrepreneur. Joffe has not been charged by Durham.
Kessler says that Sussmann’s Alfa Bank tip was dutifully investigated by the FBI, who found it had to do not with anything suspicious going on with the Trump Organization but with a mass marketing email company that worked for the Trump hotels and hundreds of other clients. Once again, for a more detailed discussion, see this fascinating report by cybersecurity expert Brian Krebs.
Kessler also explains how the Alfa Bank work ended up billed to the Clinton campaign:
Sussmann worked for Perkins Coie, which was employed by the Clinton presidential campaign. The indictment claims that in Perkins Coie internal paperwork, Sussmann billed his time with Baker to the Clinton campaign. He also billed much of his time on the Alfa Bank matter to the Clinton campaign, according to the indictment. But Sussmann’s lawyers have said the billing records are misleading because the Clinton campaign received a flat retainer so the hours did not result in additional charges.
Sloppy. Billing records should not be “misleading.”
What did Trump and his associates find so interesting about the February 11 court filing? It seems to have been this:
The indictment added that Joffe’s employer “had come to access and maintain dedicated servers for the EOP as part of a sensitive arrangement whereby it provided DNS resolution services to the EOP. Tech Executive-1 and his associates exploited this arrangement by mining the EOP’s DNS traffic and other data for the purpose of gathering derogatory information about Donald Trump.”
But how would that work? Why would anyone be mining “derogatory information about Donald Trump” In the Executive Office of the President in the fall of 2016 when Sussmann went to the FBI to discuss his tip?
Sussmann’s attorneys complained that “The Special Counsel has again made a filing in this case that unnecessarily includes prejudicial — and false — allegations that are irrelevant to his Motion and to the charged offense, and are plainly intended to politicize this case, inflame media coverage, and taint the jury pool.” They filed a motion to strike six paragraphs from the filing.
Joffe released a statement of his own:
Contrary to the allegations in this recent filing, Mr. Joffe is an apolitical Internet security expert with decades of service to the U.S. Government who has never worked for a political party, and who legally provided access to DNS data obtained from a private client that separately was providing DNS services to the Executive Office of the President (EOP). Under the terms of the contract, the data could be accessed to identify and analyze any security breaches or threats,” the statement said. “As a result of the hacks of EOP and DNC [Democratic National Committee] servers in 2015 and 2016, respectively, there were serious and legitimate national security concerns about Russian attempts to infiltrate the 2016 election. Upon identifying DNS queries from Russian-made Yota phones in proximity to the Trump campaign and the EOP, respected cybersecurity researchers were deeply concerned about the anomalies they found in the data and prepared a report of their findings, which was subsequently shared with the CIA.
On February 17, apparently taken aback by the media furor, Durham filed a response to Sussmann’s motion to strike. He protested that he had no intention to politicize the case and had not acted in bad faith. He included two “new” paragraphs “to apprise the Court of the factual basis for one of the potential conflicts described in the Government’s Motion, namely, that a member of the defense team was working for the Executive Office of the President of the United States (“EOP”) during relevant events that involved the EOP.”
Trump’s New Complaint
Only a little more than five weeks after Trump issued his February statement claiming the Clinton campaign was responsible for accusations that he and/or his campaign had ties to Russia, Trump filed his new suit. The chief allegations are that, on the one hand, Michael Sussmann, a partner at Perkins Coie, the campaign’s legal counsel, set out to find—or “fabricate”—a connection between Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization; and on the other, Marc Elias, also a Perkins Coie partner, “led an effort to produce spurious ‘opposition research’ claiming to reveal illicit ties between the Trump Campaign and Russian operatives.” Elias’s mission, it’s claimed, led him to hire investigative firm Fusion GPS and its founders, Peter Fritsch and Glenn Simpson, and from there to Orbis Ltd. and its owner Christopher Steele.
According to the complaint, Steele obtained the information that he put in his dossier from Igor Danchenko, a Russian national living in the United States; they further state that information was furnished to Danchenko by Charles Halliday Dolan, who worked for the Clinton campaign. It’s added that Danchenko “was subsequently indicted for falsifying his claims.” In reality, he, like Sussmann, Danchenko was indicted by Durham for lying to the FBI about the sources of his information.
Of Rodney Joffe, the complaint says dramatically:
At the same time, Michael Sussmann, in his hunt for damaging intel against the Trump Campaign, turned to Neustar, Inc., an information technology company, and one of its top executives, Rodney Joffe, a fervent anti-Trumper who had recently been promised a high-ranking position with the Clinton Administration, to exploit their access to non-public data in search of a secret “back channel” connection between Trump Tower and Alfa Bank. When it was discovered that no such channel existed, the Defendants resorted to truly subversive measures – hacking servers at Trump Tower, Trump’s private apartment, and, most alarmingly, the White House.
We know that isn’t true: the president at the time was Obama, not Trump.
All the individuals discussed above are named in the complaint, which at 108 pages is two-thirds as long as Ticktin’s 160-page book about his high school years with Donald Trump.
Despite its length, the complaint has little new material to present. After its discussion of Ticktin’s own interpretation of what the indicted actors in the Durham investigation actually did, it moves on to drag in James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Democratic lawyers, Clinton campaign officials, DNC workers, and more. Only Rod Rosenstein is left untouched, although it was he who appointed Mueller as special prosecutor.
Beginning on page 60, Ticktin states his case for Count 1, civil RICO charges against Clinton, the Clinton Campaign, the DNC, Perkins Coie, Elias, and Sussman. The RICO Enterprise, Ticktin asserts, “was formed as early as April 2015 and remains ongoing and continuing to the present day.” Additionally, Trump claims to have been “forced to incur expenses in an amount to be determined at trial, but known to be in excess of twenty-four million dollars ($24,000.000) and continuing to accrue.” How much would it be if he’d lost the 2016 election?
Should he succeed in demonstrating that, he’ll avoid problems with statutes of limitations that have limited all charges in the Durham investigation to counts of lying to the FBI. It will be interesting to follow the twists and turns of the case.
Needless to say, Democratic attorneys have been busy lampooning the suit on Twitter. One predicted early dismissal; another Rule 11 sanctions; yet another called it a “lolsuit.” Whatever happens, given Trump’s well-known love of litigation, if he has anything to say about it, it won’t be over soon.
For further information about this securities law blog post, please contact Brenda Hamilton, Securities Attorney at 200 E. Palmetto Park Rd, Suite 103, Boca Raton, Florida, (561) 416-8956, by email [email protected] or visit www.securitieslawyer101.com. This securities law blog post is provided as a general informational service to clients and friends of Hamilton & Associates Law Group and should not be construed as and does not constitute legal advice on any specific matter, nor does this message create an attorney-client relationship. Please note that the prior results discussed herein do not guarantee similar outcomes.