WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, filed a defamation lawsuit Tuesday in federal court against Fusion GPS, the firm behind a salacious and largely unsubstantiated dossier that purported to lay out how Russia had aided the Trump campaign. The dossier portrayed Cohen as a central figure in what it described as a conspiracy.
The filings came a day before the statute of limitations for a libel claim would have expired.
Cohen also said on Twitter late Tuesday that he was suing BuzzFeed. He did not mention the lawsuit against Fusion.
The lawsuit against Fusion is likely to play into what has become a wide-ranging conservative campaign to sow doubts about the Russia investigations by raising questions about the dossier and those who put it together. The dossier — a set of reports paid for by Democrats — contains unsubstantiated allegations of questionable real estate deals, secret coordination with Russian operatives who hacked Democratic targets during the 2016 election and evenings that Trump is said to have spent with prostitutes.
Republican lawmakers have repeatedly claimed that the dossier could have been mishandled by the FBI as it was opening its own investigation into the Russian effort, although they have provided no evidence to support those claims. And last week, two influential Republican senators made the first known congressional criminal referral in connection with the meddling — against Christopher Steele, the former British spy who was hired by Fusion and compiled the dossier. They said that he lied to federal investigators about his contacts with the news media.
The move infuriated Democrats. They characterized it as an attempt to discredit a crucial source in the investigations by Congress and the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and distract from the central question: whether the Trump campaign knowingly sought aid from Russia.
That question remains unanswered. Although investigators and journalists have developed extensive evidence linking some of Trump’s associates to operatives for the Russian government, no evidence of a direct connection between Trump himself and the Kremlin has emerged.
The same is true of Cohen, who has vehemently denied any role in the conspiracy claimed in the dossier. In August, Cohen went so far as to give Congress a point-by-point rebuttal of the dossier’s allegations that he had deep ties to Russian officials. He specifically denied one of the best-known allegations against him — that he secretly met in Prague with a Russian official last summer.
In the lawsuit, Cohen’s lawyers say that Fusion acted recklessly and then disseminated the dossier to reporters without being able to back up its explosive claims.
Cohen was “collateral damage in a U.S. political operation,” the lawsuit says.
Neither Fusion nor Steele had any immediate comment on Cohen’s lawsuit.
Ben Smith, the editor in chief of BuzzFeed News, wrote in an op-ed article published late Tuesday by The Times that “a year of government inquiries and blockbuster journalism has made clear that the dossier is unquestionably real news.”
He defended BuzzFeed’s decision to publish the dossier, despite having not verified the accuracy of its contents. Without it, many Americans would not have had the context necessary to fully understand the Russia investigations, he wrote.
“We strongly believed that publishing the disputed document whose existence we and others were reporting was in the public interest,” he wrote.
Cohen is not the first to sue BuzzFeed over the dossier. The news organization also faces a lawsuit by Aleksej Gubarev, a Russian technology executive named in the dossier. As part of that case, lawyers for Gubarev, who runs XBT, a technology company based in Luxembourg, have subpoenaed both Fusion and Steele for documents about the dossier and their communications with the news media.
Gubarev is mentioned at the end of the dossier, which claims that he and his company were involved in hacking operations against the leadership of the Democratic Party.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.