Lawyers for a Russian tech executive suing BuzzFeed for publishing the Steele dossier say that a longtime associate of Arizona Sen. John McCain and two major news outlets are resisting subpoenas seeking their depositions for the case.
In a brief filed in federal court late Wednesday, lawyers for the executive, Aleksej Gubarev, claim that David Kramer, a former State Department official and McCain associate, “has been seemingly avoiding service” of a deposition subpoena for weeks.
And The New York Times and Wall Street Journal are challenging deposition subpoenas they have been served as part of the case.
Gubarev’s lawyers are attempting to find out who gave BuzzFeed the salacious dossier, which the website published to much controversy on Jan. 10.
The dossier, written by former British spy Christopher Steele, alleges that Gubarev and his companies, XBT Holdings and Webzilla, used spam, viruses and porn bots to hack into DNC computer systems. Gubarev vehemently denies the allegations.
Gubarev’s attorneys say that identifying BuzzFeed’s source could shed light on whether the news outlet was warned that information in the dossier could be false. They argue that publishing the dossier despite such warnings would show “reckless disregard for the truth or falsity of the information published.”
BuzzFeed has defended its decision to publish the dossier, which was financed by the Clinton campaign and DNC and commissioned by opposition research firm Fusion GPS. It is also resisting demands from Gubarev’s team to identify its dossier source on the grounds that it would violate its First Amendment protections as a news-gathering organization.
Fusion, which has denied being BuzzFeed’s source, was paid $1 million by the Democrats for the Trump project. The firm, founded by three former Wall Street Journal reporters, paid Steele $168,000 for his spy work. (RELATED: Here’s How Much The Clinton Campaign And DNC Paid For The Dossier)
BuzzFeed argues in its defense that its article publishing the dossier made it clear that the document had not been verified. The site said it was publishing the dossier because members of the intelligence community, including then-FBI Director James Comey, had briefed then-President-Elect Trump on some of the report’s most explosive allegations.
Trump has dismissed the dossier as “crap” and a “hoax.”
To avoid revealing its source, BuzzFeed has insisted that Gubarev ask others who may have come in contact with the dossier to attest to whether they are the website’s source.
As part of that search, Gubarev’s lawyers issued deposition subpoenas to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, Mother Jones Magazine, CNN and Yahoo! News.
The Gubarev team also sent a subpoena to William F.B. O’Reilly, a Republican consultant and Newsday columnist who wrote about BuzzFeed’s decision to publish the dossier.
O’Reilly confirmed to TheDC that he received a subpoena this week, but he said he was surprised that he’s being sought for deposition. He said that he did not discuss the source of the dossier with BuzzFeed. His only contact with BuzzFeed was for his column. O’Reilly says he spoke to BuzzFeed editor in chief Ben Smith for the piece but that sourcing for the dossier was not discussed.
Steele has revealed in court filings in London, where he is based and where he is being sued by Gubarev, that he briefed reporters at most of those outlets prior to the election. He said that he was instructed by Fusion GPS to provide the briefings.
None of outlets that have been subpoenaed by Gubarev are known to have had a full copy of the dossier published by BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed reporter Ken Bensinger disclosed last month that he obtained the dossier from a source in late December.
The BuzzFeed document consists of 17 memos and 35 pages dated from June 20, 2016 to Dec. 13. The only people known to have had possession of the entire dossier besides BuzzFeed are Steele, Fusion GPS, McCain and Kramer, a former director at the McCain Institute for International Leadership.
Steele has denied in the London court that he gave the dossier to any news outlets. Fusion has also denied being BuzzFeed’s source, though the research firm has said in court proceedings that BuzzFeed asked for a copy of the uncorroborated document. Fusion’s lawyers have said that the dossier was not provided.
McCain also recently denied to TheDC that he gave the dossier to BuzzFeed. He has previously admitted to giving a copy to Comey during a Dec. 9 meeting, though that version would not have contained the final Steele memo. (RELATED: McCain Denies Being BuzzFeed’s Source For The Dossier)
Kramer has avoided commenting publicly on the matter. He has not responded to numerous requests for comment from TheDC, including regarding Gubarev’s latest allegation that he has been dodging a deposition subpoena.
The depositions for the news outlets are scheduled to occur throughout November, say Gubarev’s lawyers. But they note that The Journal and The Times have “indicated their intent to fight the deposition subpoenas” by arguing that are protected as journalists from discussing the issue.