Former President Donald Trump has dropped a “frivolous” lawsuit against New York’s Attorney General Letitia James after similar antics in another lawsuit earned him and his attorney, Alina Habba, nearly $1 million in sanctions, and a harsh rebuke from the judge overseeing the case.
On Thursday, Florida District Court Judge Donald Middlebrooks—a Bill Clinton appointee—slapped Trump’s legal team with sanctions over the former president’s sweeping lawsuit against his 2016 presidential opponent Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, and numerous former officials from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI in a case Middlebrooks described as “completely frivolous, both factually and legally,” and “brought in bad faith for an improper purpose.”
“Mr. Trump is a prolific and sophisticated litigant who is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries,” Middlebrooks wrote in a scathing 46-page ruling imposing the sanctions. “He is the mastermind of strategic abuse of the judicial process, and he cannot be seen as a litigant blindly following the advice of a lawyer. He knew full well the impact of his actions.”
The former president claimed that the 31 defendants named in his lawsuit conspired to damage his chances of winning the 2016 election by pushing his campaign’s alleged ties to Russia. Middlebrooks ordered the former president and his attorney to jointly pay nearly $938,000 in legal costs to the defendants, including the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Hillary Clinton, and former FBI director James Comey.
Naming examples of similar cases Trump had brought, Middlebrooks cited a current case in New York where the former president is countersuing James, a Democrat, for damages amid her office’s $250 million civil suit against Trump-owned businesses, which Trump’s attorneys described as “a vendetta” against him, with the stated goal of “destroying him personally, financially, and politically.”
Middlebrooks, who was in the process of overseeing that particular case at the time of his writing, didn’t see it that way, describing Trump’s rhetoric not only as intentionally provocative, but unsupported by facts—a concern he had apparently already passed along to Trump’s attorneys in previous proceedings.
“I found there was no likelihood of success on the merits, no irreparable harm, and to ‘impede a civil Enforcement Action by the New York Attorney General would be unprecedented and contrary to the interests of the people of New York,’” Middlebrooks wrote. “I urged Mr. Trump and his lawyers to reconsider their opposition to AG James’s Motion to Dismiss because “[t]his litigation has all the telltale signs of being both vexatious and frivolous.”
This is the second time Middlebrooks has sanctioned Habba in the Clinton lawsuit. Last November, the judge hit out at the “political grievances masquerading as legal claims,” and ordered Trump’s legal team to pay $50,000 to another defendant that was named in the lawsuit, HBO founder Charles Dolan.
On Friday, Trump and his attorneys filed a motion voluntarily dismissing their suit against James without prejudice, seemingly bringing at least one of his many legal battles to a close ahead of his 2024 presidential campaign, which is scheduled to begin in earnest with an event announcing his South Carolina leadership team in the early voting state next Saturday.
However, it’s not currently clear whether Trump dropped the suit as a result of the sanctions, or for another purpose.
On Thursday, it appeared that Trump continued to believe he had been wronged by James’ office. Shortly after Middlebrooks’ ruling, the former president took to Truth Social to rail against the attorney general’s office and its prosecution of former Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Allen Weisselberg, who has become a central figure in the state’s case against him.
“I can’t get over the fact that a casualty of the greatest Witch Hunt of all time, Allen Weisselberg, my long time employee and chief financial officer, is sitting in a prison cell in Rikers Island for a type of case that has never been brought before in the history of our Country,” Trump wrote. “He didn’t pay taxes on the use of a company car—does anyone? The use of a company apartment—does anyone? Or the Education of his grandchildren—Wow! Are these things really criminal, or even a crime?”
Newsweek has reached out to Trump’s campaign for comment.
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