The Federal Election Commission fined the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign more than $100,000 for secretly funding opposition research that falsely accused Donald Trump of colluding with Russia.
The commission fined the treasurers of the DNC and Clinton campaign for "misreporting the purpose of certain disbursements" related to the infamous Steele dossier, according to a ruling released on Wednesday. The DNC and Clinton campaign paid more than $1 million in 2016 to fund the dossier project, but labeled the payments as legal expenses. The commission fined the DNC and Clinton campaign $105,000 and $8,000, respectively.
The ruling, first reported by the Washington Examiner, vindicates claims that Democrats improperly hid their links to the dossier. Former British spy Christopher Steele, the author of the dossier, accused the Trump campaign of leading a "well-developed conspiracy of cooperation" with the Russian government. He also alleged that the Kremlin blackmailed Trump to do its bidding. Numerous federal and congressional investigations have debunked Steele's allegations. Special Counsel John Durham last year indicted Steele's primary source, Igor Danchenko, on charges that he lied to the FBI about his sources.
Dan Backer, who in 2018 filed the FEC complaint on behalf of the Coolidge Reagan Foundation, praised the ruling.
"This may well be the first time that Hillary Clinton—one of the most evidently corrupt politicians in American history—has actually been held legally accountable," he told the Examiner.
The Clinton campaign and DNC commissioned the dossier through their law firm, Perkins Coie. The firm paid more than $1 million to opposition research firm Fusion GPS to collect damaging information about Trump and Russia. Fusion GPS in turn paid $168,000 to Steele, who operates a private intelligence firm in London. Steele eventually fed the dossier to the FBI, while Fusion GPS peddled it to numerous journalists in Washington, D.C. BuzzFeed News published the dossier on Jan. 10, 2017. Democrats' ties to the dossier were not discovered until October 2017, amid an investigation led by House Republicans into the origins of the salacious document.
The dossier played a key role in the FBI's investigation of the Trump campaign, as well as the media's narrative of collusion between Trump and the Russian government. The FBI relied heavily on the dossier to obtain warrants to surveil former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. The Justice Department's inspector general blasted the FBI in a report in December 2019 for failing to verify the dossier's allegations about Page before using them to obtain surveillance warrants.
The FEC declined to issue a fine against Christopher Steele, Fusion GPS, or Marc Elias, a former partner at Perkins Coie. Durham indicted Elias's former partner, Michael Sussmann, in September on charges that he lied to the FBI about his work on the investigation into Trump's ties to Russia.
The DNC did not respond to a request for comment. Clinton campaign treasurer Elizabeth Jones also did not respond to a request for comment.