Within days, weeks at most, the former British spy behind the infamous dossier on Donald Trump could find himself forced by courts on both sides of the Atlantic to sit for a deposition.
The stakes are high for Christopher Steele. As it stands, he faces defamation lawsuits in England and the United States. And U.S. congressional committees and investigators want to talk to him about the contents of his dossier and who compensated him for his work.
But the stakes are also high for Trump, as Steele might be forced to provide corroborating evidence and even sources for the many charges in the dossier that allege collaboration between the Republican candidate and Russian operatives.
The 35-page document, which also contains a salacious description of one of Trump’s trips to Moscow, became international news when published by the online news site BuzzFeed in January. Soon after came word of multiple investigations. Adding to the intrigue, following publication of the dossier a former top KGB general, Oleg Erovinkin, was found dead and two top Russian intelligence officials were later arrested in Moscow.
Lawyers for Russian-born Internet mogul Aleksej Gubarev’s company, XBT Holdings, are advancing in a U.S. lawsuit against BuzzFeed, and a separate legal team for Gubarev is pursuing a lawsuit in London against Steele.
Gubarev sued BuzzFeed because the dossier alleged that Russia’s government had compromising information on him and coerced him into cyber efforts to manipulate the U.S. election via his U.S. companies XBT and Webzilla — claims that Gubarev denies. He contends that BuzzFeed didn’t give him the opportunity to refute the uncorroborated information.
Gubarev’s attorneys this week are expected to ask British courts to compel Steele to give a sworn deposition to be used in the defamation lawsuit in South Florida, where one of Gubarev’s companies Webzilla is located. A federal judge in Miami late Tuesday ruled against Steele in his bid to quash that request.
Steele claimed to the judge that his deposition would jeopardize his British case. He also stipulated that he did not believe U.S. courts had jurisdiction over him, arguing Britain has different rules governing depositions in British cases.
The U.S. suit alleges defamation by the online news site BuzzFeed, not Steele.
U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro denied Steele’s request, “trusting that his rights under British law will be protected by the British Court.”
And that’s put a spring in the step of Gubarev’s legal team.
“The Florida corporation, Webzilla, that is suing him here is not part of the UK lawsuit (against Steele). We have explicitly said that here in the U.S. … we are not seeking damages that the UK lawsuit is seeking,” Valentin Gurvits, lead U.S. attorney for Gubarev, told McClatchy. “We definitely will not use the testimony we obtain in his deposition in the UK.”
A BuzzFeed spokesman declined to comment. Lawyers for the news site in June sought subpoenas to compel testimony from the former heads of the CIA, FBI and Office of the Director of National Intelligence. This added a new wrinkle of complexity to closely watched legal maneuverings.
Gubarev’s lawyers have via subpoena also sought to compel a statement from Fusion GPS, the political research group in Washington, D.C., that paid Steele for his some of his investigative work in compiling the dossier. Fusion’s co-founder Glenn Simpson was also threatened with a subpoena by the Senate Judiciary Committee to compel him to appear. The committee later agreed to have him provide private testimony, Politico reported in July.
Steele’s dossier amounted to private business intelligence that was not intended for publication. But it did circulate in government and media circles last year during and after the presidential campaign. McClatchy reported exclusively in July that British court documents showed Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was briefed on the circulating dossier by Sir Andrew Wood, a former British ambassador to Moscow.