MANHATTAN (CN) – Unhappy with BuzzFeed over its reporting of the infamous “Pissgate” dossier, the owners of a Russian bank that is being investigated by the FBI for ties to President Donald Trump brought a defamation complaint Friday.
Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Khan, who together own Russia’s largest private bank Alfa, filed the 12-page complaint this afternoon in Manhattan Supreme Court.
The lawsuit comes over four months after BuzzFeed published a 35-page dossier linking the president and Russia. Former British spy Christopher Steele had originally prepared the dossier for a “Never Trump” firm that wanted opposition research to prevent Trump’s seizing of the Republican nomination in last year’s presidential election.
A Democratic research company picked up the tab for Steele to keep working during the general election, but its stream of cash was set to run dry before Election Day.
Though many in Washington knew about the dossier, it remained out of the public eye because many of its allegations cannot be independently verified. Shortly after CNN broke the news about the dossier, reporting on Jan. 10 that Trump and then-President Barack Obama had been briefed on its details, BuzzFeed published the full salacious document shortly after.
The dossier disclosed in the article, “These Reports Allege Trump Has Deep Ties to Russia,” consists of 17 “Company Intelligence Reports 2016” prepared by Steele.
Alfa, which is Russia’s biggest private bank, is mentioned on page 25, buts its name is misspelled as “Alpha Bank.”
This page bears the headline “RUSSIA/US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: KREMLIN-ALPHA GROUP CO-OPERATION.”
BuzzFeed’s article introducing the dossier repeatedly noted that the allegations contained in the document were unverified and that the dossier itself contained errors.
The dossier alleged that Alfa and its officials and employees cooperated with a Kremlin conspiracy to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. News outlets have also reported that federal investigators are looking into an “odd” computer server connection between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank.
However, Friday’s lawsuit claims that that the suggestion of cooperation with an election-rigging conspiracy is false, has defamed Alfa and the billionaire plaintiffs, and caused serious damage to their reputations.
Bloomberg reports that Fridman, 53, Khan, 55, and Aven, 62, are worth $12.7 billion, $8.8 billion, and $5.4 billion, respectively.
The 12-page complaint seeks compensatory and punitive damages. The Russians are represented by Alan Lewis with Carter Ledyard & Milburn.
BuzzFeed News spokesman Matt Mittenthal said Friday’s law has no merit.
“Given that the allegations contained in the dossier were presented to successive presidents and remain under active investigation by intelligence agencies and Congress, there is little doubt that their publication was and continues to be in the public interest,” Mittenthal said in a statement. “That makes it all the more important that this shameless attempt to bully and intimidate BuzzFeed News not have a chilling effect on other journalists who continue to report this important story.”
Trump has denied the dossier’s allegations that Russian operatives have compromising personal and financial information about him, condemning the publication of such claims as “outrageous and irresponsible”
“It’s lies,” Trump said in January. “It didn’t happen. It was gotten hold of by opponents of ours who decided to put that crap out.”
In another public dismissal of what he calls “fake news,” Trump chided, “That it got out at all, and got committed to paper is an absolute disgrace.”