Judge orders Fusion GPS deposition in libel suit against BuzzFeed
Fusion GPS, the impresario of the infamous Christopher Steele dossier, must undergo a deposition in a libel suit brought by a Russian entrepreneur, a federal judge ruled this week.
Judge Ursula Ungaro also ordered Fusion, a Washington investigative firm, to turn over written communications with Mr. Steele, who accused the Trump campaign of an “extensive conspiracy” yet to be proven publicly.
Aleksej Gubarev is suing the news site BuzzFeed in U.S. District Court in Miami for publishing the dossier’s final December 2016 memo. Mr. Steele accused him of hacking into Democratic Party computers at the behest of Moscow intelligence.
The Cyprus-based developer of Webzilla computer servers has denied the charge ever since the January 2017 web posting and says it damaged his global businesses.
Fusion, which paid Mr. Steele with money from the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic Party, fought in court to avoid being questioned by Mr. Gubarev’s attorneys. Fusion lawyers cited the First Amendment and invasion of privacy into the investigator’s business practices and confidential clients.
But Judge Ungaro rejected just about all of those arguments, meaning a Fusion representatives from its roster of former Wall Street Journal journalists will have to give testimony under oath. Fusion isn’t a defendant.
Mr. Gubarev’s lawyers will be allowed to ask about the hiring arrangement between Fusion and the Democrats and subsequently how Fusion contracted with Mr. Steele, a former British spy. Fusion will also be questioned on any communications with BuzzFeed and editor in chief Ben Smith.
“The circumstances of the preparation of the December memo are highly relevant to the truth or falsity of the statements that are at the heart of this case,” Judge Ungaro’s ruling said.
Gubarev can also ask Fusion about all the steps it and Mr. Steele took to obtain dossier information, but can not ask the identify of his Kremlin sources.
Fusion must also turn over its electronic communication with Mr. Steele, with sources redacted.
Mr. Gubarev won a similar court victory in his London defamation case to depose Mr. Mr. Steele. That deposition taken in June remains under seal, but could be disclosed at trial in November.
“The central theme of this litigation thus far has been that anyone with any knowledge of the pertinent facts has been dodging their obligation to provide sworn testimony,” Val Gurvits, Mr. Gubarev’s attorney, told The Washington Times. “Fusion GPS has been delaying the inevitable.
“Judge Ungaro is very engaged in this case and she saw through Fusion’s objections. I am certain that Fusion’s testimony will confirm what we have said all along, and what has now been independently established by the U.S. government: that the allegations in the December memorandum of Christopher Steel’s dossier against Alex Gubarev, XBT and Webzilla are absolutely false.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller brought an indictment against 12 Russian intelligence officers, charging them with executing the actual hacking against Democrats and stealing documents. The indictment makes no mention of Mr. Gubarev or his companies. He says he hasn’t been interviewed by Mr. Mueller’s team or by congressional committees.
Fusion has said it didn’t leak the dossier copy to BuzzFeed. Mr. Gubarev’s legal team has determined who did, but is under a gag order.
Outside of Fusion, a copy was known to exist in the hands of Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, who gave it to then-FBI Director James Comey in December 2016. A McCain associate, David Kramer, who met with Mr. Steele in England, also possessed the document.
By that time, the FBI already possessed most of Mr. Steele’s memos which began in June 2016.
Mr. Steele said in a declaration in London that he didn’t confirm the unsolicited allegations against Mr. Gubarev.