Author of Trump dossier moves closer to testimony in lawsuit

Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer, in London earlier this month.
Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer, in London earlier this month. AP

The U.S. lawyer for a Russian tech mogul suing online news site BuzzFeed will travel to London to take testimony from the former British spy at the center of the allegations of possible Trump campaign collusion with the Kremlin.

A British court on Wednesday accepted a compromise between lawyers that compels narrow testimony from Christopher Steele, who produced the so-called Trump dossier that prompted congressional and federal investigations in the United States.

Aleksej Gubarev and his Cyprus-based company XBT Holdings, who are suing BuzzFeed for defamation, will be permitted to question Steele about the final page of the document, where both are mentioned.

Gubarev’s lawyers brought separate suits early last year in South Florida and London, alleging BuzzFeed should have given him an opportunity to comment when it published the dossier on Jan. 10, 2017, setting in motion political drama in London, Moscow and Washington, D.C.

“We are going to do [the deposition] ourselves,” Valentin Gurvits, a Boston-based lawyer representing XBT and Gubarev, said Friday. “We’re going to videotape him. BuzzFeed’s counsel will be there.” Steele agreed not to appeal the London court’s decision.

The timing of the session, however, is unclear because attorneys for BuzzFeed have appealed in London, arguing that questions to Steele should not be limited to just the part about XBT and Gubarev.

“Now that the court has ordered this deposition, we believe Mr. Steele should be able to tell the full story behind his work on the dossier,” said Matt Mittenthal, a BuzzFeed spokesman.

The 35-page dossier’s final section alleged that Gubarev and his company, over a period from March to September 2016, were instrumental in the hacking of leaked Democratic Party emails embarrassing to Hillary Clinton and other Democrats during the presidential campaign. The dossier was paid for initially by Republican opponents and later a lawyer tied to the Democratic National Committee and Trump’s Democratic rival for the White House, Hillary Clinton.

The document didn’t detail how this information was learned and Gurvits said in an interview that he wants to ask Steele what is meant by later descriptions of information in the dossier being “raw and unsolicited.”

BuzzFeed maintains it published the dossier under what’s known as fair-report privilege, meaning it can’t be sued because it was reporting about an official document, action or proceeding. It argues the dossier already was been in the hands of the FBI and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., at the time of publication.

“We fully expect the information contained in Mr. Steele's deposition to reaffirm our decision to publish the dossier, which was at the center of official investigations and circulating at the highest levels of government,” said Mittenthal.

Gurvits counters that the version of the dossier that the FBI and the senator had did not include the final memorandum from December 2016 that made the allegations about XBT and Gubarev.

“The document that the government was looking at was not the version that BuzzFeed published,” he insisted.

Gubarev is a venture capitalist who owns Florida-based Webzilla Inc., Cyprus-based XBT and other tech companies that collectively are involved in web hosting, online storage and Internet services.

A McClatchy profile of the company last year detailed XBT’s complicated ownership structure and found that its hosting of file-sharing sites had made it a target of anti-piracy advocates.

Kevin G. Hall: 202-383-6038, @KevinGHall