WASHINGTON (CN) — Three Russian bank executives filed a federal defamation complaint this week against the research firm behind the famous Trump “dossier” that alleges links between Russia and Trump campaign associates.
The owners of Russia’s largest private commercial bank, Alfa – Mikhail Fridman, Peter Aven and German Khan – filed the lawsuit Tuesday against Fusion GPS and its founder Glenn Simpson.
The complaint calls the 35-page dossier “gravely damaging” to their reputations and says that one of its 17 memos falsely accuses them of having a criminal relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Fridman, Aven and Khan say the dossier, which misspells the bank as “Alpha,” falsely implicates them in criminally bribing Putin to extort favorable treatment from the Russian government for their business interests, and implies that they cooperated with the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election because they “are required to do Putin’s bidding.”
“The false and defamatory statements published and republished by the defendants concerning the plaintiffs and Alfa, as well as the obvious implications of those statements, were made negligently or with reckless disregard of whether they were true or false,’ the complaint states.
Fridman, Aven and Khan call themselves “collateral damage” of a political operation waged by Fusion GPS and Simpson, who refused to remove the memo from the dossier that identified them before the media got ahold of it.
“Even though the Dossier contained unverified allegations, defendants recklessly placed it beyond their control and allowed it to fall into the hands of media devoted to breaking news on the hottest subject of the day: the Trump candidacy,” the complaint states.
Fusion GPS hired former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, who worked through Orbis Business Intelligence Limited, to compile the dossier at the behest of Republican opponents of Trump, who wanted opposition research against him before he clinched the Republican nomination.
After that, the complaint states, Fusion engaged with Democratic Party operatives who wanted the opposition research to boost Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. The complaint says such research “is neither objective nor neutral.”
The men say that Fusion GPS intended to publicly disseminate the dossier, and held press briefings in September with journalists from CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times and others.
Although many in Washington knew about the dossier, the full document remained out of the public eye for months because many of the allegations, some of them salacious, could not be independently verified.
As media interest in the dossier intensified, Buzzfeed News decided to publish it in full on Jan. 10, ten days before Trump took office.
Buzzfeed was roundly criticized, including by other media organizations, for publishing the dossier, although it noted three times in the article that the dossier contained unverified allegations and errors, Buzzfeed printed it under the headline, “These Reports Allege Trump Has Deep Ties to Russia.”
Plaintiff’s attorney Alan Lewis with Carter Ledyard & Milburn in New York said by phone Wednesday evening that distributing statements about someone with a disclaimer that it has not been verified is not a defense for defamation, but an admission of recklessness.
Lewis filed a separate, related defamation lawsuit in May on behalf of Fridman, Aven and Khan against Buzzfeed.
The Russian executives seek punitive damages to be determined at trial.
Fusion GPS did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that the Special Counsel Robert Mueller has taken over the FBI investigation of allegations contained in the dossier.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is also seeking evidence of whether any Trump campaign associates who had financial dealings with Russia, including former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, may have helped the Kremlin target social media postings and hacking intended to undermine Clinton, Reuters reported.
Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., said Wednesday that the committee has not reached a determination on the question of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Russia has denied interfering in the election and Trump has called allegations of collusion “fake news” and “lies.”