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.


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  • icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 10:45am

    The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 10:51am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      discordian_eris (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 10:54am

      Re:

      Remember Manafort as well. He had, what, 3 passports?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 11:10am

      Re:

      And of course they could arrange some unofficial meeting somewhere and a private jet could take him to Russia without a trace. Showing a blank passport means nothing.

      Still, more on topic, even if he can prove falsehoods in the thing the article is spot on: he should have left Buzzfeed out of it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    discordian_eris (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 10:52am

    The only intelligent thing he has done in regards to this lawsuit is to employ counsel and not try and do it himself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 10:56am

    This is bully tactics, sue those sites that you do not like when given the slightest excuse, and they will go away when they go broke.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 11:17am

    In the late 2030s America will have to deal with Trump-related 2010s nostalgia. Sorry.

    The original 2010s Trump-related litigation will still be ongoing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 12 Jan 2018 @ 11:25am

    For a 'law & order' guy, he sure doesn't like the 1st Amendment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 6:57pm

      Re: The First Amendment does NOT protect falsehoods.

      You kids, yet again premising everything that "Free Speech" is whatever YOU want to say and that none of your enemies has any right at all to good reputation not damaged by lies.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 8:52pm

        Re: Re: The First Amendment does NOT protect falsehoods.

        Isn't that what your hero Shiva Ayyadurai believed? And his lawsuit didn't turn out too well, did it? Sucks to be you, blue boy.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 10:05pm

        Re: Re: The First Amendment does NOT protect falsehoods.

        Actually there have been many, many court cases that have decided that the first admentment does in fact protect falsehoods. I find it almost laughable how wrong you are in every single thing you say and do.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2018 @ 4:31am

        Re: Re: The First Amendment does NOT protect falsehoods.

        Projection is an art form.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2018 @ 6:37am

        Re: Re: The First Amendment does NOT protect falsehoods.

        You kids

        For someone who's presumably much older than "us kids" you're pretty full of shit. Proof positive that wisdom doesn't necessarily increase with age.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Sayonara Felicia-San (profile), 13 Jan 2018 @ 10:07pm

      Re:

      First Year MSM Coverage:
      10% of the media was favorable Towards Trump
      80% of the media was favorable Towards Obama.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Thad, 15 Jan 2018 @ 8:51am

        Re: Re:

        1. What does that have to do with the post you're replying to?
        2. [citation needed]
        3. To assume it is unfair that Obama received more positive media coverage than Trump is to assume that both presidents deserved an equal amount of equally favorable coverage. Can you defend this thesis?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    kP (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 11:29am

    The document in question

    Enjoy!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    kP (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 11:30am

    https://goo.gl/GcyJWJ

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 12:05pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 1:41pm

      Re: Several points

      I can think of at least two methods of bugging a room like that and obtaining the sound for processing later. No one needed to be bugged, hacked or otherwise compromised either.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 1:49pm

        Re: Re: Several points

        Sure. But introducing that into evidence, even if done in a closed court session, informs the defendants and their counsel that it's been done. They can in turn inform others. It may not be worth surrendering that information, depending on what other evidence is available.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Sayonara Felicia-San (profile), 13 Jan 2018 @ 9:55pm

      Re: Several points

      #2 & #4

      Wrong!

      “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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Thad, 15 Jan 2018 @ 8:52am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 12:34pm

    Trump: Human personification of a shithole.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dan (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 1:49pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2018 @ 4:40am

      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?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Roger Strong (profile), 13 Jan 2018 @ 8:20am

        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."

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2018 @ 11:20am

          Re: Re: Re: Defamation law...

          Ok, that makes sense in that it is repeating a lie while stating what someone said, as a quote, is not.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 1:53pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 4:26pm

    "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).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 5:57pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 6:21pm

    "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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dismembered3po (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 7:53pm

    40 years ago?

    If his wife immigrated to the US from the Ukraine region 40 years ago...

    Some math....and...

    She did, in fact, emigrate from the Soviet Union.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      stine, 12 Jan 2018 @ 9:30pm

      Re: 40 years ago?

      Yessiree. 40 years ago, there was no country of Ukraine, which wasn't founded until 1991.

      If the rest of the claims denied in this lawsuit are equally invalid, I think he's in trouble.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 8:06pm

    AAAAAAAA

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Vikarti Anatra (profile), 13 Jan 2018 @ 5:30am

    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'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2018 @ 3:07am

    New Nickname

    Michael Cohen is eligible for a new nickname. We don't need another "Barbara - already too many of those. Same for "Steve" (as in Dallas). Howzabout "SLAPPy"?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2018 @ 5:11pm

    "Plaintiff's wife was born in the Ukraine region and immigrated to the United States over forty (40) years ago" - ah, a sleeper agent :-)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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