Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, said he filed a pair of defamation lawsuits against BuzzFeed and political intelligence firm Fusion GPS on Tuesday.
The lawsuits are in response to BuzzFeed’s publication of an unverified dossier filled with allegations linking Trump, his inner circle and Cohen, a longtime Trump confidant, to Russian officials.
The 35-page dossier was compiled by Fusion GPS and reportedly commissioned by Trump’s political opponents, including anti-Trump Republicans and Democrats. BuzzFeed published the dossier last January, noting at the time that allegations in the document were unverified and contained errors.
Cohen filed one lawsuit in a state court against BuzzFeed, BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith and reporters Ken Bensinger, Mirian Elder and Mark Schoofs, according to ABC News. The other suit was filed against Fusion GPS and company co-founder Glenn Simpson in a federal court in the Southern District of New York, Bloomberg reported.
“It will be proven that I had no involvement in this Russian collusion conspiracy,” Cohen told Bloomberg. “My name was included only because of my proximity to the president.”
In an op-ed published Tuesday in The New York Times, Smith adamantly defended BuzzFeed’s controversial decision to publish the unverified dossier in its entirety last year.
Once the document was unveiled, journalists and government officials criticized BuzzFeed for publishing the unsubstantiated claims. Many journalists, including some at major news organizations, even said they received the same information but decided against publishing it without verifying the details. In response to BuzzFeed’s dossier, Trump cried “fake news” and famously called the organization a “failing pile of garbage.”
Smith on Tuesday claimed that the past year of “government inquiries and blockbuster journalism” ― referencing the Russia investigation and the investigative reporting following the inquiry ― is proof that the dossier is “unquestionably real news.”
After Cohen tweeted news of the defamation lawsuits, BuzzFeed released a statement echoing Smith’s op-ed:
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 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.
The dossier, compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, claims that Russian officials have been cultivating Trump for at least five years and that Trump and “his inner circle” have received a “regular flow” of information from Russia about his political rivals.
The dossier alleges that Trump engaged in “perverted sexual acts” in Russia and describes a “clandestine meeting” between Cohen and the Kremlin that took place in the Czech Republic capital of Prague. Cohen defended himself against the latter claim by maintaining that he has never traveled to the Czech Republic.
According to ABC News, both of Cohen’s lawsuits claim that the dossier published by BuzzFeed contained “false and defamatory allegations” that resulted in “harm to his personal and professional reputation, current business interests, and the impairment of business opportunities.”
In the federal complaint, Cohen alleges that Fusion GPS “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,” ABC News reported.
Cohen announced his lawsuits on the same day Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) released a transcript from Simpson’s 10-hour testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, at Simpson’s request.
During that testimony, the committee questioned Simpson as part of its investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and the Kremlin’s ties to the Trump campaign.
In October, Cohen testified privately before members of the House Intelligence Committee. Speaking to Bloomberg on Tuesday, Cohen said that he told the panels that he never engaged with anyone representing the Russian government and never discussed interfering with the Democratic Party or the U.S. election.