BuzzFeed defends its publication of the Steele Dossier on Trump and Russia

Thanks to testimony released Tuesday, BuzzFeed says its publishing of a controversial document was justified

By Matthew Rozsa
Published January 10, 2018 3:31PM (UTC)
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(AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

President Donald Trump's one-time personal attorney is filing a lawsuit against BuzzFeed for publishing the controversial Steele Dossier, which contained explosive allegations about Trump's longstanding connections to Russia.

The suit filed by Michael Cohen claims that his reputation was damaged by the dossier, which he called "entirely and totally false," according to NBC News:

In the action, Cohen highlights several allegations in the dossier that he says are provably false. For example, the dossier claimed that Cohen's wife is Russian and that her father is a leading property developer in Russia, allowing Cohen to carry on a possibly criminal relationship with the Russian government.

The suit says Cohen's wife was born in Ukraine, immigrated to the United States more than 40 years ago and "has never been to Russia." Her father, it says, has been to Russia only once.

The lawsuit comes as BuzzFeed's editor in chief, Ben Smith, in a New York Times editorial Wednesday, defended and celebrated his company's decision to publish the controversial document.


"Without the dossier, Americans would have found it difficult to understand the actions of their elected representatives and government officials," Smith wrote. "Their posture toward Mr. Trump was, we now know even more comprehensively than we did in January 2017, shaped by Mr. Steele’s report. The Russia investigation, meanwhile, didn’t turn out to be some minor side story but instead the central challenge to Mr. Trump’s presidency."

Smith also decried the argument "made by the traditionalists, that a main threat to journalism is that journalists might be too transparent with their audience." He insisted that publishing the document proved to be in the public interest, citing a number of recent stories that have confirmed parts of what it claimed.

Since we published, the public has learned a great deal more about how seriously the F.B.I. took the dossier. The F.B.I., CNN reported, used the dossier to justify its effort to spy on an American citizen, and reimbursed Mr. Steele for some of his expenses. The BBC reported that the dossier was a “road map” to the F.B.I. investigation. Fox News recently reported that a top Department of Justice official met with Mr. Steele during the 2016 campaign. And on Tuesday, the public was given a glimpse, in the release of secret testimony, into the fierce battle between Senate Democrats and Republicans over the dossier and how the F.B.I. made use of it during the 2016 campaign.

Republican politicians have recently gone out of their way to discredit the dossier. Last week, two top Republicans in the Senate asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray to investigate whether Steele had lied to the FBI about his contacts with journalists about the dossier's contents.

Perhaps in response to Graham's and Grassley's actions, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., released the secret testimony of Glenn Simpson — who owns Fusion GPS — in order to counter "the innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript." As Salon's Heather Digby Parton wrote:

The released transcript of Simpson's testimony contains a good deal of interesting information, all of which will be gone over with a fine-toothed comb in the press. But the upshot is that Simpson says Steele (who was effectively his subcontractor) went to the FBI because he learned in the course of his investigation that Russian agents were attempting to conspire with the campaign of the Republican candidate for president. Republicans in Congress have been trying to cover that up for obvious reasons: It's not only damning information on its own, it's also an indictment of every Trump associate who remained silent or played along.

Some experts still doubt whether or not Trump will actually be impeached as a result of its contents.

"No one thinks that our president, I don't really wanna mention his name, will be removed because of things that he's done, even though there seems to be ample reasons for impeachment," Errol Morris, a documentarian who has covered a number of political stories, told Salon last month. "Instead, it will be a cover up. It'll be an attempt to hide material about possible collusion with the Russians, that may or may not bring him down. It seems the most likely candidate."

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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Ben Smith Buzzfeed Christopher Steele Donald Trump Steele Dossier Trump Russia Scandal