Defama­tion case against Trump dossier writer slated for fall

Lon­don court gets first li­bel law­suit

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

Anti-Trump dossier cre­ator Christo­pher Steele will face a Lon­don defama­tion trial later this year, one of two court cases in which he was forced to pro­duce his first and only on-the-record state­ments on how he in­ves­ti­gated and spread Demo­cratic Party op­po­si­tion re­search.

A lawyer in­volved in a law­suit told The Wash­ing­ton Times that the Lon­don trial will start this fall, some­time be­tween midOc­to­ber and mid-De­cem­ber.

A half-dozen li­bel law­suits have been filed against Mr. Steele and other dossier­re­lated op­er­a­tives. The one filed in Lon­don in 2017 by Rus­sian en­tre­pre­neur Alek­sej Gubarev would be the first to reach trial.

Mr. Steele is a key fig­ure in pro­mot­ing Trump-Rus­sia con­spir­acy the­o­ries within the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and the news me­dia. In his fi­nal of 17 dossier memos in De­cem­ber 2016, he ac­cused Mr. Gubarev, a large sup­plier of com­puter servers, of hacking into Demo­cratic Party com­put­ers un­der pres­sure from Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence. Mr. Gubarev, a res­i­dent of Cyprus, im­me­di­ately de­nied the charge. There has been no ev­i­dence he did the in­tru­sion.

Mr. Gubarev sued Buz­zFeed in Florida for pub­lish­ing the dis­cred­ited 35-page dossier, which listed his name as a crim­i­nal hacker. A fed­eral judge dis­missed the case, but not be­cause she ruled the charge was true. Rather, she ruled that Buz­zFeed had a right to pub­lish since the FBI was us­ing Mr. Steele’s charges to in­ves­ti­gate Pres­i­dent Trump.

In Bri­tain, li­bel laws don’t fa­vor the press the way they do in the U.S.

Mr. Gubarev’s law­suit has avoided the is­sue of dis­missal be­cause Mr. Steele’s de­fense isn’t that the dossier is true, said Val Gurvits, Mr. Gubarev’s U.S.-based at­tor­ney. Mr. Gubarev heads XBT Hold­ings, which in­cludes the server provider We­bzilla.

“They didn’t have a mo­tion to dis­miss,” Mr. Gurvits told The Times. “It doesn’t work that way in Eng­land. Be­cause they did not al­lege truth as a de­fense, they did not have a right to file for sum­mary judg­ment. That’s a huge is­sue, by the way, that most of the press con­ve­niently ig­nored. Christo­pher Steele is not ar­gu­ing that the al­le­ga­tions against Gubarev are true.”

Mr. Gurvits said the trial is slated to start be­tween Oct. 21 and Dec. 18.

Mr. Steele un­der­went lawyer ques­tion­ing in Lon­don, but his de­po­si­tion re­mains sealed.

Mr. Steele and his Or­bis Busi­ness In­tel­li­gence firm also are be­ing sued for defama­tion in Lon­don by three Rus­sian oli­garchs tied to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. Mr. Steele ac­cused Alfa Bank’s Mikhail Frid­man, Petr Aven and Ger­man Khan of pay­ing cash bribes to Mr. Putin.

Some Repub­li­cans to­day, af­ter two years of in­ves­ti­ga­tions, view the dossier as a hoax, per­haps per­pe­trated by Mr. Steele’s Krem­lin sources.

The three Rus­sian bil­lion­aires sued Fu­sion GPS, Mr. Steele’s han­dler, in a court in the District of Columbia. A judge dis­missed the case, prompt­ing an ap­peal.

With­out these two Lon­don li­bel cases, the pub­lic might never know de­tails of Mr. Steele’s cam­paign to spread un­ver­i­fied charges against Mr. Trump. He has filed at least two dec­la­ra­tions in the Gubarev case and one in the Alfa law­suit.

Among Mr. Steele’s dis­clo­sures in Gubarev v. Or­bis:

He was hired by the Wash­ing­ton in­ves­tiga­tive firm Fu­sion GPS in June 2016 to “pre­pare a se­ries of con­fi­den­tial mem­o­randa based on in­tel­li­gence con­cern­ing Rus­sian ef­forts to in­flu­ence the U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion process and links be­tween Rus­sia and Don­ald Trump.” Fu­sion co-founder Glenn Simp­son told Con­gress he didn’t give Mr. Steele such a spe­cific charge.

Or­bis as­so­ciate An­drew Wood met post­elec­tion with Sen. John McCain and an as­so­ciate, David Kramer. The meet­ing started the process of plac­ing the dossier in their hands to de­liver to FBI then-Di­rec­tor James B. Comey. Mr. Steele, a for­mer MI6 in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer posted in Moscow, also pro­vided some dossier ma­te­rial to Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence.

(It emerged in the Florida case that Mr. Kramer leaked the dossier to Buz­zFeed. Court fil­ings show Buz­zFeed jour­nal­ists put com­plete trust in Mr. Steele’s work. Mr. Steele said he made it clear to Mr. Kramer that the dossier should be used only in McCain’s of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity.)

The charges against Mr. Gubarev in the De­cem­ber memo were “un­so­licited in­tel­li­gence” and “raw in­tel­li­gence” that “needed to be an­a­lyzed and fur­ther in­ves­ti­gated/ver­i­fied.” He said, “Such in­tel­li­gence was not ac­tively sought; it was merely re­ceived.”

The “raw in­tel­li­gence” in­cluded sup­posed de­tails on then-Trump at­tor­ney Michael Co­hen mak­ing a se­cret trip to Prague in Au­gust 2016 to meet with Putin aides and en­gi­neer a hacking cover-up. Co­hen has de­nied re­peat­edly that such a trip took place and hasn’t re­tracted that even since turn­ing against Mr. Trump un­der pres­sure for un­re­lated crimes from spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller. No pub­lic ev­i­dence of the trip has sur­faced from Mr. Mueller’s of­fice.

The dossier didn’t con­tain the iden­ti­ties of Mr. Steele’s sources. He de­scribes them as “a for­mer top Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer,” a “se­nior Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry fig­ure,” a “for­mer top level Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer still ac­tive in­side the Krem­lin” and a “se­nior Krem­lin of­fi­cial.”

Mr. Steele, at Mr. Simp­son’s urg­ing, briefed news out­lets dur­ing Sep­tem­ber and Oc­to­ber 2016 trips to Wash­ing­ton: The New York Times, The Wash­ing­ton Post, Ya­hoo News, The New Yorker and CNN.

Mr. Steele’s dossier em­phat­i­cally stated there was an “ex­ten­sive con­spir­acy” be­tween the Trump cam­paign and the Krem­lin to hack com­put­ers and spread stolen doc­u­ments.

In con­trast, in his court dec­la­ra­tion Mr. Steele talks only of “pos­si­ble co­or­di­na­tion of mem­bers of the Trump cam­paign and Rus­sian gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.”

Among Mr. Steele’s dis­clo­sures in Frid­man, Aven, and Khan v. Or­bis:

Mr. Steele said Fu­sion hired him to ob­tain in­for­ma­tion that Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton could use to chal­lenge the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion should Mr. Trump win.

No con­gres­sional tes­ti­mony sug­gested this mo­tive.

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