The Stefanik legal complaints: Campaign fundraising on steroids

“There you go again!”

— Ronald Reagan to President Jimmy Carter during a 1980 debate.

That memorable phrase came to mind upon learning that Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) recently submitted yet another complaint to a legal oversight body regarding the conduct of justices and prosecutors related to civil and criminal cases against former President Donald Trump. Stefanik’s latest, which she submitted to the Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility on April 31, posted on X, and highlighted on her congressional website, targets DOJ Special Counsel Jack Smith, Stefanik alleges — and this is both rich and ironic — “… that Jack Smith is trying to interfere with the 2024 election.” This marks the fourth “official” complaint to state and federal judiciary offices since November 2023.

Among the oddities of these complaints is that Stefanik is not a lawyer, nor is she a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which exercises oversight of federal courts. It is odd too that Stefanik’s three previous complaints note her re-election headquarters as her address, not her congressional office. Finally, it is stranger still that the April 31 Smith complaint letter omits an office letterhead at the top and an official signature block at the close. (I suspect the April 31 letter was prepared by the Stefanik campaign staff that retained a lawyer — using campaign funds — to draft Stefanik’s complaint. Prove me wrong.)

Clearly none of these complaints are expressions of legitimate congressional oversight, nor are they genuine expressions of concern regarding judicial conduct and legal processes. They are instead merely instruments to raise campaign cash.

A review Stefanik’s previous complaints might be useful.


In November 2023, Stefanik filed a complaint to the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct regarding the conduct of Judge Arthur Engoron, the presiding judge in the state civil lawsuit against Trump. Her letter makes a number of allegations related to judicial bias and breach of state judicial guidelines. Some are silly. “At the start of the trial, Judge Engoron infamously smiled and posed for the cameras,” she writes. Others omit important context. In any event Stefanik’s complaint, thinly veiled as a private letter to oversight authorities, was instead the launch of an aggressive, sophisticated and sustained fund-raising operation tied to Trump’s legal proceedings.

In the weeks following her filing of the complaint, “Team Elise” sent text messages to supporters eliciting campaign donations. Among them was a particularly troubling Dec. 8 text to supporters. “Elise Stefanik just wrote an op-ed calling out the Left’s unconstitutional prosecution of Trump.” Ms. Stefanik amplified her views in a Dec. 5 op-ed she published in Newsweek. Commenting not just on the Engoron case, but also on a host of other legal proceeding targeting Mr. Trump, she writes, “But by far the most dangerous and un-American tool in the Left’s political arsenal is their unprecedented lawfare targeting Joe Biden’s leading political opponent: President Donald J. Trump.”


In December 2023, Stefanik requested an ethics investigation into the conduct of U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell, who presided in D.C. grand jury proceedings against Trump, alleging what Stefanik termed “highly inappropriate political speech” by the judge in November 2023. The Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980 describes how any person can file a complaint against a federal judge. Stefanik’s complaint is problematic both in form and substance.

First, the Act specifies that a complaint contain a concise statement that details the specific facts on which the claim of misconduct or disability is based. Stefanik’s 1790-word letter is hardly concise and includes considerable irrelevant material to include the circumstances related to the appointment of Howell to the bench.

Second, the Act specifies that the complaint conclude with the declaration, “I declare under penalty of perjury that the statements made in this complaint are true and correct to the best of my knowledge.” Stefanik’s letter contains no such declaration. Fiery text messages to supporters soliciting campaign donation appeals followed, of course.


On Feb. 12, 2024, Stefanik filed a complaint against New York state Attorney General Letitia James regarding her conduct prior to and during the civil fraud case against Trump. In her letter to the New York Committee on Professional Standards Stefanik alleges that James is “… conducting a biased investigation and prosecution of President Trump and … attacking President Trump through extrajudicial statements during a trial.” According to the New York Rules Of Professional Conduct RULE 8.3, “A lawyer who knows that another lawyer has committed a violation … shall report such knowledge to a tribunal … empowered to investigate or act upon such violation.” The rule makes no mention of the rights of “any person” to report alleged misconduct. Ms. Stefanik is not an attorney, therefore her 6,000-word 64-page complaint is likely headed to the New York State Bar Association trash bin even though she raises several salient points, to include dozens of misadvised social media posts and press statements James made before and during the Trump trial. Stefanik once again began sending highly provocative daily text messages to supporters requesting campaign donations. (Her Feb. 15 text message to supporters was particularly over-the top. “… I just officially filed to have the far-Left New York Attorney General seeking the “Corporate Death Penalty” against President Trump DISBARRED,” Stefanik wrote.)

Ms. Stefanik could have chosen to shine a laser-like focus on two or three areas of concern in one or two of the Trump court cases to make cogent and constructive points on important judicial matters; for example, AG James’s problematic extrajudicial statements during the civil fraud case. Instead, she chose to submit highly-charged partisan missives that undermine confidence in our legal system for the dubious twin objectives of raising campaign funds (and raise money she did; a staggering $5.2 million in the fourth-quarter 2023) and raising her profile as a possible vice presidential candidate. In so doing, Stefanik shows that she is an ambitious and opportunistic politician, but not a principled statesperson.

­– — —

Thomas J. Raleigh, a Watervliet Democrat, is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and former State Department strategic planner.









NEWSWEEK: The Democrats Are Using Lawfare Against Trump Because They Can’t Beat Him Fairly | Opinion






CORRECTION: This commentary has been corrected to reflect that a commentary by Rep. Elise Stefanik was published by Newsweek on Dec. 5.


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