Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s personal attorney, says he has instructed his own attorney to investigate legal action against BuzzFeed, which posted an opposition research “dossier” that accused Mr. Cohen without proof of a conspiracy with Russian agents.
Mr. Cohen told The Washington Times that he also is considering a lawsuit against former British spy Christopher Steele, who wrote the gossipy 35-page dossier that the liberal news website posted on Jan. 10.
Mr. Steele was paid by a Hillary Clinton supporter, via the Democratic Party-linked firm Fusion GPS, to gather dirt on candidate Trump last summer and fall. GPS circulated the Steele memos to reporters and Democrats.
But it was not until BuzzFeed posted the dossier that some people named in it learned that they were accused of wrongdoing.
In Mr. Cohen’s case, Mr. Steele accused him of traveling to Prague in the last week of August to meet with Russian agents to devise a plan to cover up the supposed Trump-Russia hacking of Democratic Party email servers.
Mr. Cohen, the attorney for the Trump Organization for 10 years, immediately denied the accusation in January. He showed his passport to the president, his close aides and reporters to prove he had never been to Prague. He also shared his itinerary for a trip he took to Southern California at the time Mr. Steele said he was in the capital of the Czech Republic.
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Mr. Cohen is not alone in challenging Mr. Steele. Aleksej Gubarev, CEO of network solutions firm XBT Holding, is suing for defamation. The dossier said he ran a hacking operation to flood Democratic computer networks with porn and bugging devices.
Mr. Gubarev, a tech entrepreneur, called the charges “one of the most reckless and irresponsible moments in modern ‘journalism,’” according his libel lawsuit, which was filed in Florida state court.
BuzzFeed Editor Ben Smith said he doubted the dossier was true at the time it was posted. His news site responded to the lawsuit by apologizing and striking Mr. Gubarev’s name from its website dossier, but the pages already had been copied and widely circulated.
Mr. Cohen’s name remains unredacted. The charges against him continue to swirl in social media even though he has shown that the Prague meeting could not have taken place.
In a statement to The Washington Times, Mr. Cohen said: “I believe the entire dossier to be inaccurate, and worse, completely fabricated. I applaud Aleksej Gubarev in bringing legal action against both Christopher Steele and BuzzFeed for creating and disseminating this fake dossier/information without a scintilla of fact checking. I am currently in discussions with foreign and domestic counsel to file similar actions.”
The Steele dossier mentions Mr. Cohen more than a dozen times but on just one topic: his supposed trip to Prague to meet with Russians and cover up the supposed Russia-Trump hacking.
“The agenda comprised questions on how deniable cash payments were to be made to hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the Clinton campaign and various contingencies for covering up these operations and Moscow’s secret liaison with the Trump team more generally,” Mr. Steele wrote.
His final memo in December stated: “In Prague, Cohen agreed [to] contingency plans for various scenarios to protect the operations, but in particular what was to be done in the event that Hillary Clinton won the presidency. It was important in this even that all cash payments owed were made quickly and discreetly and that a cyber and other operators were stood down/able to go effectively to ground to cover their traces.”
Again, Mr. Cohen said this account by Mr. Steele is fiction. He never attended such a meeting.
If Mr. Cohen follows through with a lawsuit, he would be following a path paved by Mr. Gubarev in February in Florida state court against BuzzFeed and Mr. Smith, and in a London court against Mr. Steele and his Orbis Business Intelligence.
XBT, which operates more than 37,000 computer servers globally, has an office in Florida, where its web development company Webzilla is incorporated.
Mr. Steele wrote that Mr. Gubarev, 36, who left Russia in 2002 to live in Cyprus and launch tech companies, was recruited “under duress” by the FSB, Russia’s follow-on to the Soviet KGB spy service, to hack Democrats’ computers with “botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data.”
Mr. Gurbarev’s lawsuit, filed by Boston attorney Evan Fray-Witzer and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, attorney Brady J. Cobb, says the Steele narrative is “wholly and completely false.”
“Although BuzzFeed and Smith specifically knew that at least portions of the dossier were untrue, they printed the entire document — without meaningful redactions — including those portions that falsely accused the Plaintiffs of participating in an alleged conspiracy to commit crimes against the Democratic Leadership, not to mention a conspiracy to undermine American Democracy and the 2016 election,” the action states.
“BuzzFeed and Smith published these allegations without having even taken the most basic step of contacting the Plaintiffs to ask if the allegations had any merit,” it says. “As a result of BuzzFeed and Mr. Smith’s reckless publication of defamatory materials, he has found his personal and professional reputation in tatters.”
Mr. Steele wrote that Mr. Gubarev used a hacker by the name of Seva Kapsugovich.
Mr. Gubarev says he doesn’t know and has never met Kapsugovich. McClatchy News reported that Kapsugovich is a twice-convicted pedophile who has been imprisoned in Russia in a facility where he has no access to the internet or cellphones.
The lawsuit says Mr. Smith assigned four reporters to the dossier to try to prove or disprove it, yet none of them contacted Mr. Gubarev.
The lawsuit against Mr. Steele was filed in London by the international law firm McDermott Will & Emery. It says the dossier caused Mr. Gubarev to lose clients all across Europe and that Mr. Steele made no effort to contact Mr. Gubarev.
“It has caused [Mr. Gubarev] serious financial loss and is likely to do so in the future,” the lawsuit says.
Mr. Steele gave interviews to journalists whom he tried to persuade to produce stories about his dossier, the lawsuit says.
• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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