26 Oct 2017
The politically-explosive revelation that Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic Party paid for some of the research that produced an uncorroborated election-year dossier connecting President Trump to Russia may have broken campaign laws.
Election law experts said candidates and their committees are required to report expenses accurately and in detail, and that civil or criminal penalties can be imposed for failing to do so.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign funded some of the research by the firm Fusion GPS, but routed the monies through a law firm. Their campaign reports listed no payments to Fusion GPS and the expenses attributed to the law firm Perkins Coie are described as legal work, not opposition research, the paper noted.Federal Election Commission expert Jan Baran told The Hill that while it is not illegal and improper for campaigns to hire opposition research, questions are raised when they fail to accurately report the money they spend on it.
“The issue is number one, did the campaigns pay for this service? And apparently, based on press reports, they did,” Baran said. “And number two, if they did, then it should have been accurately reported in some fashion on their FEC reports.”
Baran added that thus far, there are no signs of a FEC filing by the Clinton campaign or DNC for the opposition research expenses incurred for this dossier.
On Tuesday evening, the first legal complaints were filed accusing Clinton’s campaign and the DNC of filing misleading campaign finance reports.
The non-profit watchdog group Campaign Legal Center asked the FEC to investigate whether Clinton and the DNC’s reporting of the dossier funding as legal bills violated federal election laws.
“By failing to file accurate reports, the DNC and Hillary For America undermined the vital public information role that reporting is intended to serve,” CLC said in its complaint.
The FEC declined to comment on the specifics of the Clinton campaign, but noted that rules passed in 2013 reinforced the obligation that expenditures be filed with accurate descriptions.
Clinton’s office did not return a call seeking comment. Former Clinton campaign press secretary Brian Fallon on Twitter said he had not known about the campaign’s role in funding the dossier but suggested it was a good idea anyways.
“I have no idea what Fusion or Steele were paid but if even a shred of that dossier ends up helping (Justice Department special counsel Robert) Mueller, it will prove money well spent,” he tweeted.
The DNC also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Legal expenses and research are identified in the FEC rules as two separate categories for the purpose of describing expenditures.
Baran said that the law allows for civil penalties if an expenditure is misreported unintentionally, but a criminal case could be brought if the misrepresentation is shown to be willful and knowing.
“Whether there was intentional false filing of the information would depend on all the facts,” he added. “Depends on who knew how the money was being spent, how the committee decided to report the purpose of particular bill.”
The Department of Justice didn’t return The Hill’s request for comment on whether it plans to investigate the Clinton campaign’s dossier funding and disclosure.
President Trump holds a brief presser with members of the media Wednesday afternoon before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn. Trump addressed the opposition research dossier on him that was purchased by the Clinton campaign from Fusion GPS a “disgrace,” adding that they’re “very embarrassed by it.” Trump called it a “fake dossier.”
“I think it’s very sad what they’ve done with this fake dossier, it was made up and I understand they made a tremendous amount of money, and Hillary Clinton always denied it, the Democrats always denied it. And now only because it’s going to come out in a court case they said, yes, they admitted it and they are embarrassed by it. I think it’s a disgrace, it’s a very sad commentary on politics in this country,” Trump told reporters.
Trump also said Democrats were so upset by the election loss that they “made up the whole Russia hoax” and brought up the Clinton-involved uranium deal.
“Now it’s turning out that the hoax is turned around and you look at what’s happened with Russia and you look at the Uranium deal and you look at the fake dossier. So that’s all turned around,” he said.
“I have to say, the whole Russian thing is what it’s turned out to be. This was the Democrats coming up with an excuse for losing an election,” Trump said.
“It’s an election that’s very hard for a Democrat to lose because the electoral college is set in such a way that it’s very hard to lose an election for a Democrat. They lost it. They lost it very badly. And very easily. You look at the votes. It was 306 to, what, 223 or something. They lost it by a lot. They didn’t know what to say so they made up the whole Russia hoax. Now it’s turning out that the hoax is turned around and you look at what’s happened with Russia and you look at the Uranium deal and you look at the fake dossier. So that’s all turned around.”
“We have a very good relationship,” Trump said about Congressional Republicans. “When you take a look at what’s happened with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and the hatred and the division and the animosity, I’ll tell you what, honestly, the Republicans are very, very well united.”
Trump then spoke more about the Fusion GPS ‘Trump dossier’ that he called an embarrassment for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. He was asked it by a reporter who reminded him that Republicans were originally behind it. However, the Republican who originally funded it pulled out before Christopher Steele became involved and added the much talked about salacious details of Trump’s private life.
“They say it began with the Republicans,” Trump said of the Fusion GPS-backed memo. “I think I would know but I won’t say. It will be determined. It will be determined.
Look, Hillary would have never announced it was them except for this great court case that’s going on where the judge was going to reveal it. So, they figured, we’ll do it first. They’re very embarrassed by it. It’s a disgrace. Yes, it might have started with the Republicans early on in the primaries. I think I would know. But let’s find out who it is. I’m sure that will come out.”
“If I were to guess, I have one name in mind,” Trump said when asked who he thought was procurer. “It will probably be revealed.”
“I’d rather not say, but you’ll be surprised,” he told reporters.