Dossier in­ves­ti­ga­tors eye pay­ments to jour­nal­ists

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

The role of re­porters is tak­ing on added im­por­tance in fed­eral court bat­tles over the in­fa­mous Rus­sian dossier that lev­eled un­ver­i­fied charges of col­lu­sion against the Don­ald Trump cam­paign.

In U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Fu­sion GPS, the dossier’s fi­nancier via the Demo­cratic Party and the Hil­lary Clin­ton cam­paign money, is fight­ing a House com­mit­tee chair­man’s bid to find out if the op­po­si­tion re­search firm paid jour­nal­ists.

In U.S. District Court in Florida, a self­de­scribed dossier vic­tim wants a judge to or­der the news web­site Buz­zFeed, which pub­lished the dossier in full, to dis­close who gave it to them.

The cases un­der­score how a Moscow­sourced me­moran­dum cre­ated as op­po­si­tion re­search against Don­ald Trump in the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign last year of­ten dic­tates the de­bate about pol­i­tics and re­porters’ rights in Wash­ing­ton.

Rep. Devin Nunes, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can and chair­man of the House Per­ma­nent Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, signed a sub­poena to force a bank to turn over Fu­sion’s fi­nan­cial records. He wants to know who paid for the dossier, which was writ­ten in a se­ries of 18 memos by for­mer Bri­tish spy Christo­pher Steele. He re­lied al­most ex­clu­sively on uniden­ti­fied Krem­lin sources.

Fu­sion went to fed­eral court to block the move, but the law firm Perkins Coie LLP, whose part­ner Marc E. Elias is the Clin­ton’s cam­paign’s gen­eral coun­sel, in­ter­vened. It filed a let­ter ac­knowl­edg­ing it had paid Fu­sion for the dossier on be­half of Democrats. Fu­sion and Mr. Nunes then worked out an agree­ment on ac­cess to some of the firm’s fi­nan­cial records.

But the dis­pute height­ened again as Fu­sion re­newed its re­quest for a judge to block the sub­poena be­cause Mr. Nunes wants more in­for­ma­tion. The widened net in­cludes the names of jour­nal­ists and law firms that Fu­sion might have paid.

“It is con­trived to sub­sti­tute for the ridicu­lous no­tion that In­ter­venor [the House com­mit­tee] can de­mand doc­u­ments in an over­broad sub­poena from a third party and not ex­plain what it is look­ing for or why,” said a me­moran­dum filed by Fu­sion’s law firm, Zuck­er­man Spaeder LLP, for U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan.

On the de­mand for in­for­ma­tion on any pay­ments to jour­nal­ists, Fu­sion cited First Amend­ment pro­tec­tion and con­fi­den­tial­ity. It did not deny it had paid jour­nal­ists.

“And they are not per­ti­nent, as they are not re­lated to Rus­sia or Don­ald Trump,” Fu­sion ar­gues. “In at­tempt­ing to jus­tify the over­broad sub­poena ear­lier, In­ter­venor could have, but of course did not, ar­gue the rel­e­vance to its in­quiry of any such pay­ments.”

In the court bat­tle with Mr. Nunes, Fu­sion has likened it­self to a group of jour­nal­ists with all as­so­ci­ated rights. Its founders in­clude for­mer Wall Street Jour­nal re­porters Glenn Simp­son and Peter Fritsch.

Mr. Fritsch filed a dec­la­ra­tion, say­ing: “Our tech­niques and in­ves­tiga­tive tools for our re­search and in­ves­ti­ga­tion go beyond stan­dard open-source meth­ods. Fu­sion GPS has an ex­ten­sive net­work of do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional con­tacts, built up over many years of re­port­ing.”

In Florida, Rus­sian tech­nol­ogy en­tre­pre­neur Alek­sej Gubarev, chief of In­ter­net­plat­form provider XBT Hold­ing, is su­ing Buz­zFeed for li­bel.

The Steele dossier ac­cused Mr. Gubarev of over­see­ing a bot­net op­er­a­tion that flooded Democrats’ com­put­ers with porn, viruses and spy­ware. It said the op­er­a­tion was fi­nanced by the FSB, Rus­sia’s in­tel­li­gence agency.

Mr. Steele has ac­knowl­edged in a Lon­don li­bel case brought by Mr. Gubarev that he never con­firmed the in­for­ma­tion and just passed it along to Fu­sion GPS as his fi­nal memo in De­cem­ber.

Sources of con­tro­versy

Fu­sion, which briefed a num­ber of Wash­ing­ton re­porters on Mr. Steele’s un­ver­i­fied as­ser­tions, has said it was not the source of Buz­zFeed’s copy.

Mr. Gubarev’s at­tor­neys are try­ing to find out who was and whether that per­son warned the ed­i­tors that the doc­u­ment was not ver­i­fied.

“And as you might imag­ine, if you are an on­line stor­age com­pany, to have the ac­cu­sa­tion that you are an FSB agent — for­mer KGB, now FSB — that you are es­sen­tially co-opted by the FSB and you are launch­ing hack­ing against the Demo­cratic Party, doesn’t do won­ders for your busi­ness,” at­tor­ney Evan Fray-Witzer ar­gued at a Septem­ber hear­ing.

He added: “There is only one way to know what the mo­ti­va­tion was in giv­ing the doc­u­ment and what was said to Buz­zFeed when they re­ceived the doc­u­ment.”

Kather­ine M. Bol­ger, Buz­zFeed’s at­tor­ney, said var­i­ous states pro­tect source con­fi­den­tial­ity through so-called shield laws.

What’s more, since the dossier was the sub­ject of a fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion when it was posted in Jan­uary, Buz­zFeed had com­plete le­gal free­dom to re­port on it whether true or not, she ar­gued.

“If the United States gov­ern­ment is in­ves­ti­gat­ing al­le­ga­tions, the press is free to re­port on them, pe­riod,” Ms. Bol­ger said.

Ms. Bol­ger is de­mand­ing XBT data to de­ter­mine if any of the Rus­sian hack­ing on the Democrats went through the com­pany’s servers.

A fed­eral judge’s rul­ing is ex­pected this month.

Buz­zFeed has filed re­quests with fed­eral agen­cies for doc­u­ments de­tail­ing the FBI’s dossier han­dling.

In his Lon­don court fil­ing, Mr. Steele told of how he trav­eled to Wash­ing­ton at Fu­sion’s re­quest and briefed Wash­ing­ton re­porters in Septem­ber dur­ing the cam­paign.

He said through his at­tor­neys that he gave ex­plicit in­struc­tions that the in­for­ma­tion from Krem­lin sources must be ver­i­fied and that they should not quote the dossier.

“The sec­ond de­fen­dant [Mr. Steele] un­der­stood that the in­for­ma­tion pro­vided might be used for the pur­pose of fur­ther re­search but would not be pub­lished or at­trib­uted,” the fil­ing stated. “None of the jour­nal­ists raised any ob­jec­tions.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.