The document that fueled the conspiracy theory is at the heart of a UK breach of privacy case
Former US President Donald Trump has sued retired spy Christopher Steele in a British court, arguing that his “dossier” claiming the Republican politician’s “ties to Russia” in 2016 violated UK data protection laws.
Steele inflicted “personal and reputational damage and distress” to Trump while his company, Orbis Business Intelligence, violated British laws, according to lawyers for the 45th American president.
Trump was “compelled to explain to his family, friends, and colleagues that the embarrassing allegations about his private life were untrue,” his lawyers said in a filing last month, accusing Steele of presenting his claims in a “sensationalist manner” calculated to “cause tremendous embarrassment” to its target.
The New York Times reported on the lawsuit’s existence on Tuesday, noting that the High Court judge Matthew Nicklin will hear the case starting October 16.
Steele’s “dossier” on Trump was published by BuzzFeed in January 2017, shortly before Trump’s inauguration, and claimed that Russia had recordings of him cavorting with prostitutes at a Moscow hotel, which it was using to blackmail and compromise the former reality TV star and real-estate magnate. Trump had just scored a shocking victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, for which the Democrats blamed unspecified “Russian collusion” and “interference.”
In the lawsuit, Trump’s attorneys said that their client “did not engage in unorthodox behavior in Russia and did not act in a way that Russia authorities were provided with material to blackmail him.” Not only was the personal information about Trump in the dossier “not accurate,” but Steele “failed to take all reasonable steps to insure” its accuracy, they added.
Steele, a retired British intelligence operative, was officially working for Fusion GPS, a Washington, DC-based political research firm. Hillary Clinton’s campaign had actually commissioned his “dossier” via Perkins Coie, the law firm representing the Democratic National Committee.
Though most US media outlets and numerous Democrats – including prominent lawmakers – repeatedly insisted that much of the “dossier” had been substantiated, not a single claim therein turned out to be true. Steele’s “primary sub-source” turned out to be Igor Danchenko, a Russian national working for a Washington think-tank, who later told the FBI that many of his claims were rumors he could not confirm. As it later emerged, the FBI knew this as early as February 2017, but kept using the “dossier” to renew its FISA warrant to spy on Trump’s administration via campaign aide Carter Page.
Steele has admitted to sharing the “dossier” with American journalists, but denied he had “promoted” it since its publication by Buzzfeed.
“I declined to provide any media interviews for three and a half years after the publication of the dossier by Buzzfeed, despite being asked multiple times by major international media organizations,” he said in a sworn testimony. “If I had wanted to ‘promote’ the dossier as Mr. Trump suggests, I obviously would have taken up those media opportunities.”
He also claimed the dossier was written on a computer not connected to a network, which made the data on it secure, and that after January 2017 Orbis no longer had any copies of it on its company systems. Steele’s lawyers have accused Trump of launching “frivolous and abusive legal proceedings” against their client and moved to dismiss the lawsuit.
Orbis has already lost a data privacy lawsuit related to the dossier. Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven of Alfa Bank won damages of almost $23,000 each in 2020, based on false claims by Steele that they had made illicit payments to Russian President Vladimir Putin.