Michael Cohen, one of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyers, filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the research firm Fusion GPS for producing the infamous Steele dossier that alleged the Trump campaign had ties to Russia. Cohen also filed a lawsuit against BuzzFeed News for publishing the entire dossier in January 2017.
The dossier, which was paid for in part by a lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, is a collection of 17 intelligence reports written by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. The reports present a number of unverified allegations about Trump and his campaign’s ties to Russia.
The dossier paints Cohen as a key player in the Russia-Trump relationship, and includes (again, unverified) claims that Cohen met with Russian officials in Prague in August 2016 to discuss how to pay Kremlin-linked hackers for targeting Clinton during the election.
In his lawsuits, Cohen alleges that the Steele dossier was full of “false and defamatory” claims that caused “harm to his personal and professional reputation, current business interests, and the impairment of business opportunities.”
The lawsuits are the latest move in a coordinated campaign by conservatives in and out of government against special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. On Wednesday, Trump tweeted his oft-repeated line that the Russia probe is “the single greatest Witch Hunt in American history.” Trump, however, has yet to sue anyone involved in releasing information about his potential Kremlin connections.
BuzzFeed News says it plans to fight Cohen’s charges. “The dossier is, and continues to be, the subject of active investigations by Congress and intelligence agencies,” Matt Mittenthal, BuzzFeed News’s spokesperson, wrote to me in an email. “It was presented to two successive presidents, and has been described in detail by news outlets around the world. Its interest to the public is obvious. This is not the first time Trump’s personal lawyer has attacked the free press, and we look forward to defending our First Amendment rights in court.”
Andy Wright, a law professor at Savannah Law School, thinks Cohen is unlikely to win his case. “Cohen would have to prove BuzzFeed knew what it published was false or acted with reckless disregard for its truth or falsity,” Wright told me. “But he is likely to fail to show BuzzFeed wasn’t privileged to print the dossier under these circumstances, or that the reporters and editors acted with actual malice.”
Outside of the courtroom, Cohen’s lawsuit will likely push Fusion GPS even further into the spotlight than it already is.
Why conservatives are mad at Fusion GPS
Many conservatives believe the dossier is what led to the FBI’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the first place. They argue that because the dossier was paid for in part by people connected to the Clinton campaign, the Trump-Russia investigation that is based on the dossier is therefore a political hit job.
That isn’t true. We know this in part because on Tuesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is also conducting its own Trump-Russia investigation, released the transcript of Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson’s 10 hours of testimony to the committee on August 22, 2017.
Simpson said that when Steele presented the dossier to the FBI, they told him that they were already looking into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. In other words, the dossier was not what sparked the FBI investigation.
Still, that controversy is likely to roil the halls of Congress. Meanwhile, Cohen wants to bring up his own issues with Fusion GPS and BuzzFeed News in the courtroom. That means this issue isn’t going anywhere.