Chuck Ross, DCNF
A Russian tech executive suing BuzzFeed News over the Steele dossier says he is vindicated by special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 12 Russian nationals allegedly involved in cyber attacks against Democrats.
Aleksej Gubarev, the executive, says Mueller’s indictment shows he was not involved in hacks of Democratic National Committee emails, as the dossier alleges.
He has filed defamation lawsuits against BuzzFeed News, the website’s editor, Ben Smith and dossier author Christopher Steele. BuzzFeed published the dossier on Jan. 10, 2017. Steele, a former British spy, compiled the dossier as part of an anti-Trump research project funded by the DNC and Clinton campaign.
“This is a complete and utter vindication of our clients,” Gubarev’s attorney Val Gurvits said of the Mueller indictment.
A federal grand jury handed down an indictment against 12 Russian intelligence officials who allegedly hacked emails from the DNC and Clinton campaign.
The Russians, who worked for Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, used the fake online personas Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks to disseminate the emails. Guccifer 2.0 also passed tens of thousands of DNC and Clinton-related emails to the website WikiLeaks.
Gubarev and his two firms, Webzilla and XBT Holding, are not named in the indictment.
Gubarev has claimed in his lawsuit that BuzzFeed failed to properly investigate the dossier’s allegations before publishing the 35-page document.
Gubarev is mentioned in the last of 17 memos that make up the dossier. The memo, dated Dec. 13, 2016, alleges that Gubarev’s companies, Webzilla and XBT Holding, used bots and porn to plant viruses and bugs on DNC computer networks in order to steal data.
Steele also alleges in the dossier that Gubarev was “recruited under duress” by Russia’s Federal Security Service, the FSB.
“When Ben Smith and BuzzFeed decided to publish the Dossier, they knew that they had been unable to verify any of the allegations in it,” Evan Fray-Witzer, a lawyer for Gubarev, said in a statement.
“They knew that falsely accusing people of serious criminal activity could ruin lives, but they decided that getting traffic to their website was more important than the truth. It was all about clicks and dollars for them. Nothing else mattered.”
Gubarev is scheduled to go to court with BuzzFeed in November unless a settlement is reached or the federal judge handling the case intervenes. The executives lawyers deposed Steele in London on June 18. They are attempting to depose executives with Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that hired Steele.
“We are looking forward to presenting our case to a jury,” said Val Gurvits, another Gubarev lawyer.
“We are strong believers in freedom of the press, but the First Amendment is designed to protect responsible journalists. What BuzzFeed did was anything but responsible.”
BuzzFeed has argued it was justified in publishing the dossier because the document had been circulating among government officials and the press for months before it was published. The website also acknowledged in its article revealing the dossier that its allegations had not been corroborated.
A BuzzFeed spokesman reiterated the point in a statement responding to Gubarev on Friday.
“Every development of the past 17 months has reaffirmed our position that the dossier was circulating at the highest levels of government, and squarely within our First Amendment right to publish,” BuzzFeed spokesman Matt Mittenthal said.