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Trump lawyer sues Buzzfeed for publishing Steele dossier

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Trump lawyer sues Buzzfeed for publishing Steele dossier

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais AP file
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A personal lawyer for President Donald Trump filed a defamation action against the website Buzzfeed on Tuesday for publishing a 35-page dossier alleging that Donald Trump's presidential campaign colluded with Russia.

The lawyer, Michael Cohen, provided NBC News with a copy of the lawsuit, which was filed in New York State Supreme Court.

Image: Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen, left, a personal attorney for President Donald Trump, in Washington in September. Pablo Martinez Monsivais AP file

Cohen has consistently and strongly denied any personal role in Russia's involvement in the 2016 election, both publicly and when he appeared before the House and Senate intelligence committees in October.

NBC News reported that Cohen told the committees that his reputation had been damaged by the "entirely and totally false" accusations in the "lie-filled dossier" about the Trump campaign, which was prepared by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent, for Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm.

"Let me be totally clear that the allegations raised against me in the public square and raised largely by BuzzFeed, Fusion GPS and others in the press are based upon misinformation, unnamed or unverifiable sources," Cohen said. "Their actions are so malicious, despicable and reckless, one can only presume that their motives were intentional."

In the action, Cohen highlights several allegations in the dossier that he says are provably false. For example, the dossier claimed that Cohen's wife is Russian and that her father is a leading property developer in Russia, allowing Cohen to carry on a possibly criminal relationship with the Russian government.

The suit says Cohen's wife was born in Ukraine, immigrated to the United States more than 40 years ago and "has never been to Russia." Her father, it says, has been to Russia only once.

False information like that "has also harmed Plaintiff's reputation in his profession as an attorney-at-law," according to the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages at a jury trial.

Matt Mittenthal, a spokesman for BuzzFeed News, told NBC News on Tuesday that the company would fight the action, calling the dossier an "obvious" example of an important topic that news organizations should cover.

"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," he said.

When Buzzfeed published the dossier in January 2017, it stressed in the first paragraph that the allegations it contained were unverified. Buzzfeed's article also highlighted what it said were several outright errors in the document.

Ben Smith, Buzzfeed's editor, who is a named respondent in the lawsuit, wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times on Tuesday night that he was proud to have published the dossier, saying "a year of government inquiries and blockbuster journalism has made clear that the dossier is unquestionably real news."

"Keeping the reporting process wrapped in mystery only helps those who oppose the free press," he wrote.

According to a transcript of his testimony that was made public Tuesday, Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson told the Senate Judiciary Committee in August that Steele met with the FBI more than a year ago and quoted Russian sources as saying Trump worked with a Russian election interference campaign of hacking and leaking.

"He said he was professionally obligated to do it," Simpson testified, according to the transcript. "Like if you're a lawyer and, you know, you find out about a crime, in a lot of countries you must report that."