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FEC fines Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic Party, clears "Steele dossier" author of wrongdoing

The Federal Election Commission has fined Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign $8,000 and the Democratic National Committee $105,000 for obscuring their funding of the "Steele dossier," a 2016 opposition research report that sought to highlight alleged links between Donald Trump and Russia.

The bipartisan election commission also dismissed a complaint against Christopher Steele, the author of the dossier that caused a firestorm of allegations and investigations that shook the early months of Trump's presidency.

The campaign mislabeled Steele's work as "legal services" and "legal and compliance consulting" in campaign filings, the FEC concluded.

Steele and the campaign were notified of the FEC's decision Tuesday. A spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee acknowledged that it agreed to pay the FEC's fine, but said it had "settled aging and silly complaints from the 2016 election about 'purpose descriptions' in our FEC report." 

The FEC's ruling was in response to a complaint filed in 2018 by the conservative advocacy group the Coolidge Reagan Foundation. Paul Kamenar, a member of the Coolidge Reagan Foundation's advisory board, called the DNC spokesperson's description "appalling" in a phone call with CBS News.

"It's outrageous that the DNC would minimize the serious violation that took place by calling campaign disclosure laws 'silly' violations," said Kamenar, who added that he believes the FEC should have made a criminal referral to the Justice Department.

Lawyers working for the Democrats in 2016 hired research firm Fusion GPS to investigate Trump, and the firm then paid Steele, a former British intelligence officer, and his company, Orbis.

Steele's report concluded, based on anonymous sources, that Russia had collected information that might compromise Trump. The dossier has been a source of controversy for years and Trump has often claimed it spurred the special counsel investigation into contacts between his campaign and Russian officials. 

Lawyers for Steele lauded the ruling in a statement to CBS News.

"This ruling by the FEC underlines once again that Mr. Steele and Orbis Business Intelligence acted with complete integrity and professionalism in relation to their work on the 2016 presidential election," wrote Steele's attorneys Robert Weinberg and Joshua Shiffrin.

In 2018, the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee concluded that the Russia investigation was spurred by information received by the FBI related to Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos — not the Steele dossier. The FBI did, however, rely in part on information from the dossier to secure surveillance warrants in 2016 for Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

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