Trump's Personal Lawyer Sues Buzzfeed For Publishing Allegedly False Statements Written By Someone Else

from the tossing-around-federal-litigation-like-hand-grenades dept

Another day, another stupid lawsuit/legal threat emanating from the Trump offices. Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has decided to rub up against the libel laws Trump so badly wants to “open up” by filing a ridiculous defamation lawsuit against Buzzfeed for publishing the Christopher Steele dossier compiled by Fusion GPS. Fusion is also being sued, but the addition of Buzzfeed strips the lawsuit of much of its credibility.

Cohen has every reason to dislike what was said about him in the dossier. According to the Fusion GPS opposition report, Cohen was supposedly instrumental in hooking the president’s people up with high-ranking Russian officials during the presidential campaign. Cohen maintains all of these allegations are false. From the lawsuit [PDF]:

Under this report, Plaintiff is alleged to have an inappropriate and possibly criminal relationship with the Russian government stemming from his wife’s familial relations with a Russian property developer. None of these allegations are true. Plaintiff does not have any relationship with Russian officials and his father-in-law is not a leading property developer in Moscow; he has only been to Russia once. In fact, Plaintiff’s father-in-law does not even own a vacation home in Sochi, nor has he ever been there. Additionally, Plaintiff’s wife was born in the Ukraine region and immigrated to the United States over forty (40) years ago; she has never been to Russia.

The dossier was published in full last January. In March, Cohen provided Buzzfeed with his passport, showing he had never traveled to the areas the report said he had. That should have been enough for Cohen, but he’s decided to, at the very minimum, force Buzzfeed to defend itself against defamation claims up to a motion to dismiss.

The lawsuit goes on and on about allegations made in the report, each one supposedly provably false. Several paragraphs are devoted to quoting parts of the report, followed by Cohen’s rebuttal of the report. Even a casual observer of defamation suits should be able to see the problem. The entity Cohen should be suing is Fusion GPS, and Fusion GPS only.

Cohen’s lawsuit is largely made up of counterspeech. The best weapon against speech you don’t agree with is more speech, delivered from your side. But using a federal lawsuit to engage in counterspeech doesn’t do anything positive for the First Amendment. If Cohen wanted to rebut these allegations publicly, I’m sure there’s no shortage of press outlets willing to make space for an op-ed piece by the president’s personal lawyer. Cohen has instead decided to use the government to grant credence to his side of the story and is hoping to take home $100 million on top of whatever collateral damage he does to the First Amendment.

Cohen has to stretch to make Buzzfeed the target of a lawsuit complaining about things that weren’t said by anyone at Buzzfeed.

Defendants knew that the Dossier reports were false and/or acted with reckless disregard in determining whether the reports were true or false.

While it’s true Buzzfeed thought the document might be sketchy, it did warn readers the dossier had not been verified and included errors. This is hardly “reckless” behavior. The dossier was definitely newsworthy. On top of that, government officials had already acted on information contained in the document, lending it further credence and adding to its public interest value. Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith offered his defense of the document’s public value (and implicit pedigree) at the New York Times. His statement goes right to the heart of Cohen’s “reckless disregard” allegations:

When we published the dossier, we knew a lot: We knew that it had been written by the former head of the Russia desk at Britain’s main foreign intelligence agency, a man whose job had made him a leading source on Russian espionage. We knew that key members of the Senate — Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat, and John McCain, the Arizona Republican — had acted on its contents. We had also learned that intelligence officials had briefed President Barack Obama and President-elect Trump on the dossier, and that the F.B.I. was already looking into it.

So, it’s not as though some internet rando jammed a bunch of virtual papers through Buzzfeed’s SecureDrop mail slot. This document had received vetting from government officials, many of which saw enough in it to move forward with investigations and Congressional hearings.

To be fair, Cohen is also suing Fusion GPS. But adding Buzzfeed to the lawsuit serves zero purpose other than to hassle it for ensuring the document ended up in the public’s hands. This rolls back a lot of the fairness I so recently extended Cohen. New York has a severely-restricted (and mostly useless) anti-SLAPP law so Buzzfeed won’t be able to turn around and demand a refund from Cohen for wasting its time.

Cohen clearly doesn’t like what was said about him in the Fusion report. Great, sue Fusion. Sue Christopher Steele. But don’t make this about a third party that did nothing more than publish a document of public interest with fair warning to readers about the dubious veracity of the contents.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: buzzfeed, fusion gps

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Trump's Personal Lawyer Sues Buzzfeed For Publishing Allegedly False Statements Written By Someone Else”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Roger Strong (profile) says:

In March, Cohen provided Buzzfeed with his passport, showing he had never traveled to the areas the report said he had.

Would it though?

My passport doesn’t show my visit to the Soviet Union. Unlike other countries that stamped my passport, the Soviet embassy stapled a couple pieces of paper to it. One was torn off going in, and the other going out.

Dunno if Russia kept the same procedure as its old empire, but it seems plausible.

Anonymous Coward says:

Several points

1. This isn’t a “dossier”, although it’s frequently called that. It’s a series of memos.

2. The FBI investigation is NOT based on the contents of these memos. As the transcript of Glenn Simpson’s testimony makes clear, when Steele was alarmed by what he’d discovered and went to the FBI, he learned that (a) they already had an investigation underway and (b) they had an informant who had voluntarily come forward from inside the Trump campaign. They believed what Steele told them because it corroborated what they already knew.

3. Lack of a Russian stamp on a passport means nothing.

4. It’s not clear that there’s even a case against Fusion GPS. They are the recipients of the memos written by Steele, not the authors. But Cohen almost certainly does not want to go toe-to-toe with Steele, who has a sterling reputation for quality research and a large network of resources. He would be a formidable adversary during the discovery phase of litigation.

5. Cohen is likely counting on the reluctance of investigators to divulge confidential methods and sources; in particular, he’s banking that they won’t release audio recordings of his conversations with the Russians because that would tip them as to who’s been hot-miked, hacked, bugged, or wiretapped. That’s a dangerous gambit. I sure wouldn’t try to bluff Mueller/Mueller’s team, who are pretty much the A-list of prosecutors.

Sayonara Felicia-San (profile) says:

Re: Several points

#2 & #4


“Mr. Steele was on the payroll of Fusion GPS, who was being paid by the Democratic Party to do opposition research on Donald Trump. That while he was working with the FBI, he was shopping this dossier all over the world. That’s not what an informant should do.”

— Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Jan. 7, 2018

#1.Crap. non-point. Dossier, Bunch of papers, report, just stfu dude really.

#3 The passport means something, but it’s not hard evidence of whether or not he was in Russia, or met with Russians. Only Valid Point You Make.

#5. This is pure conjecture trump-porn, probably sourced from such garbage online sources as salon, or possibly from a Rachel Maddow mono-hysterical rant, which you are passing off as your own analysis.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Several points

5. This is pure conjecture trump-porn, probably sourced from such garbage online sources as salon, or possibly from a Rachel Maddow mono-hysterical rant, which you are passing off as your own analysis.

Yes, obviously he should have chosen an unbiased source, such as a Republican senator, and not one of those other sources that you just made up.

Dan (profile) says:

Defamation law...

A notable omission from this piece is any discussion of the relevant law. Republication of defamatory material, even with the source credited, is itself defamatory. Thus, if blue wrote, as a factual claim, “Tim blows goats,” I wrote that “blue says that Tim blows goats,” and Tim does not in fact blow goats, Tim would (potentially) have a case not only against blue, but also against me.

Now here, it’s going to be a hard case–Cohen will have to show not only that the claims made in these documents are false, but also that Buzzfeed knew they were false when they went to print. That’s not impossible, but it is difficult–public figures rarely win defamation suits.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Defamation law...

“Republication of defamatory material, even with the source credited, is itself defamatory”

I am not a lawyer but this does not sound correct, are you claiming that stating fact can be illegal? How would this play out in a court of law when a witness, under oath, is asked what, exactly, was said and by whom? Is entering something into evidence considered a re-publication?

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Defamation law...

He’s saying that repeating a defamatory lie can be illegal.

There was such a case here in Canada a few years back. The defendant lost, with the judge essentially telling him “It’s not that you republished a lie. It’s that the lie had debunked and you bloody well knew it before you republished.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Sometimes life comes at you fast

Per the WSJ today, Cohen apparently was the bag man for $130K payoff to porn star Stormy Daniels in order to buy her silence in regards to, and I can’t believe I’m typing this, a sexual encounter with Trump.

I also can’t believe that Daniels would lower herself to even touching that bloated fat disgusting hideously ugly pusbag. How could a respectable porn actress do something that filthy?

Anyway, so what this tells us is that Cohen (a) is willing to lie for Trump (b) is willing to help Trump conduct coverups (c) is willing to broker payoffs (d) knows that Trump is susceptible to blackmail.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Another day, another stupid lawsuit/legal threat emanating from the Trump offices.”

Another day, another attempt to smear the Trump administration, because TechDirt has become a political bull-horn financed by google and other pro-democrat shit-tards. That and the absolute fact that it serves to continually detract from the perpetual wrong doings of democrat shit-tards per se. Nothing good can be found to say about democrats ever. Beg to differ? By all means, tell us about all the “good” things that democrats have done in past year (without bringing up Trump or anything Trump related in the process).

Anonymous Coward says:

NO. Buzzfeed needs to be made an example of. It would seem their whole goal is not to distribute truth but to make miserable the lives of as many individuals and entities as humanly possible without repercussion. They’re gonna get their repercussions eventually, and inexorably (also worthy of that are those who maintain that fake news should be publishable but only “original” authors should be held liable for falsehoods, so people like Mike can pen anything they damn please, subsequently claim it was authored by an anonymous contributor, and get by with murder in the process). NO, Mike (et all). JUST NO.

Anonymous Coward says:

"zero purpose other than to hassle it" -- Great! Hassling nasty little netfiends is GOOD purpose!

**You have logic backwards as usual. Since Buzzfeed KNEW was questionable — highly unlikely at first glance — and now DISPROVEN — then going ahead to publish is wrong and actionable.

Indeed, UNTIL substantiated, it’s FAKE and so Buzzfeed bears responsibility for publishing KNOWN FAKE.**

And as usual, Techdirt’s notions actually only apply to attacks that fit bias.

If someone handed me a sheet reading "Proof That Masnick Is A Google Shill And Active Philatelist", a substantial part of which is well-attested by numerous opinions on this site and by his own graphic on "think-tank" Copia site, am I justified in publishing it entire with the parts that I can’t prove?

And again note that decent people are disadvantaged because not inclined to make up, let alone publish, charges that are not substantiated.

Vikarti Anatra (profile) says:

Small detail which looks strange at first glance:

>Additionally, Plaintiff’s wife was born in the Ukraine region and immigrated to the United States over forty (40) years ago; she has never been to Russia.

Really? It depends on what exactly we call Russia.
More over 40 years ago so it’s 1977 or earlier.
Which USA embassy gave visa? Was it USA embassy in USSR which was located in Moscow?
So it looks like she took at least brief visit to Moscow.
If you think USSR==Russia (which is incorrect but many people think so), she was born in ‘Russia’.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »