Donald Trump’s personal lawyer has launched a defamation suit against Buzzfeed News which published a controversial dossier about the then candidate’s alleged ties to Russia.
The largely unverified memos were written by a former MI6 agent and included salacious allegations that Mr Trump consorted with prostitutes during a trip to Moscow in 2013.
Its existence – well known in journalistic circles before it was published a year ago – added credence to allegations that the Trump campaign was working with the Kremlin to secure victory in the 2016 election.
Michael Cohen, who worked for the Trump Organisation and is now a personal lawyer to the president himself, is named in the dossier. As a long-time confidant of Mr Trump, it seems certain his legal action has the backing of the president.
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“Enough is enough of the #fake #RussianDossier. Just filed a defamation action against @BuzzFeedNews for publishing the lie filled document on @POTUS @realDonaldTrump and me,” he wrote on Twitter.
Mr Trump has always dismissed the claims of the dossier as nothing more than a politically motivated smear.
The filings were also made against Fusion GPS, the political research firm that compiled the dossier, and Buzzfeed one day before the statute of limitations would have expired.
The move fuels an already bitter row over the dossier, which critics say amounts to “fake news”.
At the time, Buzzfeed News admitted it contained unverified allegations but said it wanted Americans to “make up their own minds”.
Ben Smith, the site’s editor-in-chief, said the past year, filled with more questions about Mr Trump’s links to the Kremlin and multiple high-level investigations, more than vindicated the decision.
“We strongly believed that publishing the disputed document whose existence we and others were reporting was in the public interest,” he wrote in an op-ed article in The New York Times.
“Since we published, the public has learned a great deal more about how seriously the FBI took the dossier.”
His critics included many journalists who argued that it was irresponsible to publish an unverified document, particularly at a time when the mainstream media was under attack by Mr Trump. Any misstep might give his supporters more ammunition to label news outlets as biased.
Many Washington-based reporters had been passed the dossier but opted not to publish as they continued trying to check its central claims.
It was compiled by Christopher Steele, who had been head of the Russia desk at Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI6. He used his network of contacts in east European intelligence services to examine Mr Trump’s ties in Russia for Fusion GPS, which was originally hired the candidate’s Republican opponents.
“Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least 5 years,” his memo began. “Aim, endorsed by Putin, has been to encourage splits in division in western alliance.”
He was sufficiently concerned by what he found to take his evidence to the FBI.
Details of the dossier finally became public in January last year, when Mr Trump was briefed on its existence and the potential security threat it posed.
Buzzfeed News broke ranks and published the 35-page dossier days later.
Mr Cohen is named several times in the document and is of interest to congressional investigations into possible collusion with Moscow.
In August he appeared before a congressional committee to deny its allegations point by point. And he previously published images of his passport to show that he could not have been in the Czech Republic at the time the dossier alleges he was meeting a Russian official in Prague.
“It will be proven that I had no involvement in this Russian collusion conspiracy,” Mr Cohen told Bloomberg. “My name was included only because of my proximity to the president.”