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Byrne v. Clinton

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 13, 2019

GARY JOHN BYRNE and THE GJB PROJECT, Plaintiffs,
v.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, JOHN PODESTA, DAVID BROCK, and PETER STRZOK, Defendants.

          OPINION

          PAUL L. FRIEDMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On August 29, 2018, plaintiffs Gary John Byrne and the GJB Project, also known as GJB LLC, filed an Amended Complaint [Dkt. No. 51] - the third complaint that plaintiffs have filed in this action. Now pending before the Court are motions to dismiss the Amended Complaint from each of the four defendants remaining in this case: Hillary Rodham Clinton [Dkt. No. 57], John Podesta [Dkt. No. 58], David Brock [Dkt. No. 59], and Peter Strzok [Dkt. No. 67]. Upon careful consideration of the briefs, the relevant legal authorities, and the entire record in this case, the Court will grant each defendant's motion to dismiss.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiffs initiated this civil action by filing a Complaint [Dkt. No. 1] on June 15, 2018, and then a Corrected Complaint [Dkt. No. 3] on June 19, 2018. The two initial complaints asserted claims under state law and under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961 et seq., against fifteen individuals and organizations. A number of the defendants named in the initial and corrected complaints filed motions to dismiss the complaints. See Dkt. Nos. 44-50. Rather than responding to those motions to dismiss, however, plaintiffs filed the Amended Complaint [Dkt. No. 51] on August 29, 2018. In addition to shortening the factual allegations, the Amended Complaint omits one cause of action, removes a number of previously named individual and organizational defendants, and identifies an additional individual defendant.

         The Amended Complaint supersedes the Complaint and the Corrected Complaint. The Court therefore dismissed as moot the seven motions to dismiss that either targeted the superseded complaints or were filed by defendants who are no longer parties to this case. Byrne v. Clinton Found., et al., 2019 WL 1330637 (D.D.C. March 25, 2019). As plaintiffs have confirmed, only four identified defendants remain parties to this case: Hillary Rodham Clinton, John Podesta, David Brock, and Peter Strzok. See Response of Plaintiffs to Order of March 25, 2019, Dkt. No. 76 (also indicating that there are “numerous named unknown defendants”). The motions to dismiss of these four individuals are now before the Court.

         B. The Plaintiffs' Allegations

         Plaintiff Gary J. Byrne is an author and commentator who served as a uniformed officer of the United States Secret Service during the administration of President William Jefferson Clinton. Plaintiff the GJB Project, “also known as GJB LLC, ” is identified as “the legal entity by which Officer Byrne conducts his business affairs, ” but the Amended Complaint does not otherwise attribute any action or injury to the GJB Project specifically. See Amended Complaint at 3. Defendant Hillary Rodham Clinton was, inter alia, the Democratic Party's nominee for President of the United States in 2016. Amended Complaint at 4. John Podesta was the chairman of Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign. Amended Complaint at 5. David Brock is the founder and leader of a number of the media organizations previously named as defendants in this action, including Media Matters for America. Id. at 3. Peter Strzok was an FBI Agent who was part of an investigation of Hillary Clinton that preceded the 2016 election. Id. at 6.

         The Amended Complaint alleges that Hillary Clinton and her co-defendants conspired to form, and did conduct and direct, a “vastly expanding criminal [e]nterprise, ” Amended Complaint at 6, whose aim was “to destroy Byrne and his business, ” id. at 8. The conspiracy began “at least a few years before year 2016, ” and “likely [continues] through the present time.” Id. at 27; see also id. at 6 (“beginning at a time before 2016 and continuing through at least year 2016”). In addition to the four named defendants, Mr. Byrne describes an effort that includes many named and unnamed non-defendant “Enterprise Members” holding senior positions in the media, law enforcement, and the intelligence community. See, e.g., id. at 3-6. Mr. Byrne refers to this group of defendants and non-defendants collectively as the “Enterprise” and ascribes to them a “common purpose to prepare a false and defamatory ‘dossier' on [p]laintiff Gary Byrne, which they could disseminate throughout the media and therefore harm [p]laintiffs.” Id. at 26.

         In 2016, Mr. Byrne published a book entitled Crisis of Character: A White House Secret Service Officer Discloses His Firsthand Experience with Hillary, Bill, and How They Operate (“Crisis of Character” or the “Book”). Amended Complaint at 8. The Book purportedly describes “significant transgressions of President William Jefferson Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton” that Mr. Byrne says that he observed during his tenure as a Secret Service Agent in the mid-1990s. See id. Mr. Byrne also testified on these matters before a grand jury convened by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and believes that the testimony he gave was “instrumental in the impeachment of President William Clinton.” Id. at 8. Mr. Byrne posits that defendants “have sworn reprisal ever since, and have sought payback against Byrne, utilizing [RICO] predicate acts and defamatory per se tactics to destroy Byrne and his business and, with Byrne and the other Plaintiffs [sic] out of the way, provide a path to a second Clinton presidency.” Id. at 8.

         Mr. Byrne identifies three causes of action. Count One alleges that each defendant participated in the affairs of a RICO enterprise through a “pattern of racketeering activity” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c). Amended Complaint at 25-30. Count Two alleges that this pattern of racketeering activity was the result of a conspiracy among all four defendants, which RICO independently prohibits under 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d). Id. at 31.[2] Count Three is a “defamation claim under Arkansas Law” against defendants Hillary Clinton, John Podesta, and David Brock for violating Arkansas Code § 16-63-207(a)(1). Id. at 31-33.

         1. Count One: Pattern of Racketeering Activity

         In Count One, plaintiffs claim that defendants committed three of the qualifying predicate offenses listed in 18 U.S.C. § 1961(1)(B). Amended Complaint at 25-30. First, Count One alleges the predicate offense of bribery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 201: “Hillary Clinton and John Podesta, with the assistance of David Brock, bribed independent contractors and government officials to provide sources of false information about Byrne.” Id. at 10. The Amended Complaint contains many variations on this claim, most of them undifferentiated as to the sources or recipients of any particular bribe. See, e.g., id. at 4-5, 6-7, 9, 24, 25, 27, 33.[3]

         Second, Count One alleges the predicate offense of witness tampering and obstruction of justice in violation of 18 U.S.C § 1512. The core of the obstruction allegation is that defendants illegally “destroy[ed] inculpatory documents” that were obtained by bribery and stored on Ms. Clinton's email servers. Amended Complaint at 7-8; see id. at 23 (alleging that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta, among others, “destroyed thousands of Enterprise emails . . . [and] emails containing classified information”). Mr. Byrne claims that some of the deleted files mentioned him and that the deletion of the emails constituted obstruction of justice because it “destroyed evidence under subpoena.” Id. at 23. Plaintiffs also allege that Mr. Strzok took no action with respect to the destruction of documents, id. at 10, and that he “corruptly conducted” interviews and failed to take other investigative steps during the investigation of Ms. Clinton that he supervised. Id. at 23, 28.

         Third, Count One alleges the predicate offense of a Travel Act violation under 18 U.S.C. § 1952. Plaintiffs claim that defendants used “mail and facilities, e.g., the Massachusetts safe house[, ] for conspiracy in interstate commerce with clear intent to promote, manage, carry on and facilitate . . . unlawful activity.” Amended Complaint at 27-28; see id. at 4-5 (indicating that the safehouse was used “to destabilize Donald J. Trump, Sr., in his bid for the presidency, the destruction and veiling of thousands of illicit Hillary Clinton electronic mail transmissions, and [to] further the Enterprise Operational Scheme”). Specifically, Mr. Brock is alleged to have used “facilities in interstate commerce (such as internet outlets and other media outlets)” to disseminate “false information about Mr. Byrne” allegedly obtained via bribery. Id. at 7.

         2. Count Two: Conspiracy to Engage in Pattern of Racketeering Activity

         Mr. Byrne alleges that the defendants “did cooperate jointly and severally in the commission of two or more” of the foregoing racketeering predicate offenses and that “[e]ach defendant agreed that a conspirator would commit at least two acts of racketeering” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d). Amended Complaint at 31. Other than this bare conclusion, however, the allegations do not contain facts in support of the conspiracy claim beyond those presented in the underlying racketeering activity claim. See id. at 31. Most of those allegations about the alleged racketeering activities ascribe an action to multiple defendants without details on the nature of their agreement, if any. See, e.g., id. at 10 (“Defendants Hillary Clinton and John Podesta, with the assistance of David Brock, bribed independent contactors and government officials to provide sources of false information about Byrne.”).[4]

         3. Count Three: Defamation

         Plaintiffs allege that defendants Hillary Clinton, John Podesta, and David Brock, “individually and collectively, attempted to destroy the reputation and business of Byrne and other [p]laintiff with false statements in writing and on television.” Amended Complaint at 32. Plaintiffs assert this cause of action under Arkansas Code § 16-63-207(a)(1).[5] The essence of the claim is that David Brock, in cooperation with a variety of individuals and entities, defamed plaintiffs by questioning the accuracy of Mr. Byrne's book Crisis of Character in a variety of media formats.

         The Amended Complaint provides only brief excerpts of the allegedly defamatory statements. See, e.g., Amended Complaint at 13 (“Enterprise members, including David Brock, through its [sic] vehicle Correct the Record and enabling libel ‘From the Desk of David Brock,' defamed plaintiff by referring to Crisis as ‘recycled gossip,' ‘debunked lies,' and ‘Trump-esque conspiracy theories . . . .”) (emphases in original); id. at 14 (“[Non-defendants] directly and falsely questioned Plaintiff's veracity and slandered him on [CNN] . . . directly stating and otherwise inferring [sic] that plaintiff was a criminal . . . .”). The ...


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