Donald Trump’s personal lawyer is suing news website BuzzFeed almost exactly a year after it published an explosive dossier containing serious and salacious allegations about collusion with Russia.
Michael Cohen posted on Twitter on Tuesday night: “Enough is enough of the #fake #RussianDossier. Just filed a defamation action against @BuzzFeedNews for publishing the lie filled document on @POTUS @realDonaldTrump and me!”
Cohen told Bloomberg News he had also filed a second defamation suit against political intelligence firm Fusion GPS, which compiled the dossier, in federal court.
Cohen is one of Trump’s closest business advisers and most loyal confidantes and it seems improbable that he was acting without the president’s blessing. His move came hours after Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee, unilaterally released a transcript of testimony from Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson.
BuzzFeed vowed to fight the action in court.
The publication of the 35-page dossier in January 2017 triggered a political storm and debate over media ethics. The raw research by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele suggested the Russian government had both compromised and colluded with Trump during the 2016 presidential election, and included lurid allegations.
Steele also recorded claims that Cohen had held secret meetings with Russian officials in Prague in August 2016, where he allegedly discussed how to pay Kremlin-associated hackers for targeting Hillary Clinton.
Cohen told Bloomberg that he was mentioned in the dossier 15 times. “It will be proven that I had no involvement in this Russian collusion conspiracy,” he said. “My name was included only because of my proximity to the president.”
In an interview with ABC News, he added: “I want to be very clear. I have never been to Prague or the Czech Republic, and I have never engaged with, been paid by, paid for, or communicated with anyone representing the Russian Federation or anyone else to hack anyone or any organisation or disseminate false news reports or interfere in any way with this election.”
The dossier came into the possession of several media organisations but BuzzFeed posted the unredacted documents just 10 days before Trump’s inauguration, with a warning that the contents contained errors and were “unverified and potentially unverifiable”. The decision was attacked by both Trump and some traditional media outlets, claiming it was irresponsible to publish unverified allegations.
Cohen’s complaint against Buzzfeed names editor-in-chief Ben Smith, reporter Ken Bensinger and editors Miriam Elder and Mark Schoofs.
BuzzFeed said it was ready to defend the case in court. Spokesman Matt Mittenthal said: “The dossier is, and continues to be, the subject of active investigations by Congress and intelligence agencies. 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. We look forward to defending the free press and our First Amendment rights in court.”
In an article in the New York Times on Tuesday, headlined I’m Proud We Published the Trump-Russia Dossier, Smith wrote: “A year of government inquiries and blockbuster journalism has made clear that the dossier is unquestionably real news. That’s a fact that has been tacitly acknowledged even by those who opposed our decision to publish.”
Cohen said the suit against Fusion GPS and Simpson was filed in federal court in the southern district of New York. It reportedly claims that the firm “recklessly placed [the dossier] beyond their control and allowed it to fall into the hands of media devoted to breaking news on the hottest subject of the day: the Trump candidacy”.
Fusion’s lawyer, Joshua Levy, told Bloomberg he had not seen the suit and had “not received a letter from counsel on anything”.
Cohen has emerged as a person of interest to congressional investigators examining Russian meddling in the 2016 election. He testified to the House intelligence committee behind closed doors on 24 October and publicly to the Senate intelligence committee on 25 October.