Former campaign aides to President Trump have begun to fight back against what they consider libelous allegations in the Russia election saga.
Instead of expensive legal actions, they are representing themselves in what might be considered unconventional actions through court, ethics and FBI complaints. The aim is to clear their names of any involvement in Russian election interference, as alleged by online bloggers, the press and Democrats.
Michael Caputo, a Trump campaign communication adviser, has filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics against Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat. At a House intelligence committee hearing in March, she asserted that Mr. Caputo was Vladimir Putin’s “image consultant.” Mr. Caputo says the claim is false. She later accused him of lying under oath.
“We live in fear,” he said of he and his family after Mrs. Speier’s charges prompted scores of social media threats.
Among the threats, a tweet to Mr. Caputo’s account on Oct. 9 said, “When someone puts a bullet in your head, I will piss on your head.”
Twitter user Randall Kalik told him, “You’re a traitor.”
Twitter user Terry Regan told him, “You’re a traitorous f— generally hated in WNY and the rest of the world.”
Carter Page, a volunteer foreign policy adviser, at first sent, and then released, a number of letters to the House and Senate intelligence committees protesting his innocence. He was accused in the infamous Trump-Russia dossier of conspiring with Russian intelligence and of meeting two U.S.-sanctioned Kremlin figures in Moscow. He says he did neither.
More recently, Mr. Page is representing himself in a libel suit he filed in New York City against Yahoo News and HuffPost, who repeated the charges.
J.D. Gordon, a campaign foreign policy staffer, has gone another route.
He filed complaints with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) against two college professors and a cybernews site. The professors on Twitter and in blogs have accused him of all sorts of nefarious actions that Mr. Gordon says are false.
“Some people have this weird belief that they can commit crimes against Trump associates without fearing any consequences,” Mr. Gordon, a retired Navy commander and former Pentagon spokesman, told The Washington Times. “It’s time we prove them wrong. After all, isn’t America a nation of laws?”
He has notified the office of special counsel Robert Mueller, he said, “about several individuals who have committed crimes against me personally related to the Trump-Russia saga. I will work with the FBI and local law enforcement authorities to hold those responsible fully accountable.”
Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, also felt the sting of the dossier. The 35 pages of gossip and allegations was financed by Hillary Clinton supporters, arranged by liberal Fusion GPS opposition research firm and written by former British spy Christopher Steele.
Mr. Cohen defended himself in an unusual manner.
On the day he was set to appear in private before the Senate intelligence committee, he released his opening statement bashing the dossier as a piece of fiction. His breach of protocol so angered Chairman Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican, that the senator canceled the session. Mr. Cohen went back to New York knowing his gambit became the news media’s storyline that day.
Mr. Steele charged in the dossier that Mr. Cohen traveled to Prague to orchestrate a coverup of Russian hacking by meeting with Moscow agents. Mr. Cohen says he has never been to Prague and was in California at the time.
Mr. Cohen has also directed his lawyers to explore filing a libel suit against BuzzFeed, which published the entire dossier.
Mr. Gordon’s choice of venue — the FBI’s cybercomplaint window — is a testament to the times and how to deal with cyberbullies.
The FBI set up the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) in 2000 as the cyberworld came to dominate communications and commerce. On average the center has received 280,000 complains annually, or about 800 per day.
The FBI says, “The mission of the Internet Crime Complaint Center is to provide the public with a reliable and convenient reporting mechanism to submit information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation concerning suspected Internet-facilitated criminal activity and to develop effective alliances with law enforcement and industry partners. Information is analyzed and disseminated for investigative and intelligence purposes to law enforcement and for public awareness.”
One of Mr. Gordon’s nemeses is professor Seth Abramson, a ferocious liberal Twitter user who lashes out at President Trump and conservatives. A regular target is Fox News’ Sean Hannity.
Mr. Gordon’s complaint says, “Numerous tweets this year from Seth Abramson, a professor at University of New Hampshire with 226K Twitter followers whom I’ve never met nor spoken with, contain false and defamatory statements directed at me which have damaged my professional reputation and livelihood. I have saved 5 sample Tweets on e-mail and photos which I can provide as evidence.”
Mr. Gordon has acknowledged that he briefly encountered, along with scores of other diplomats, then-Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. The State Department sponsored the foreign delegation. Mr. Gordon had a brief conversation with him at a reception and at a symposium, he says.
Mr. Abramson cast the conversations in the darkest terms, referring to Mr. Kislyak as a “top Russian spy” and saying Mr. Gordon “lied about it.”
“I’ve always been fully transparent about encountering Ambassador Kislyak and dozens of other foreign ambassadors during the RNC National Convention,” Mr. Gordon told The Times.
Mr. Abramson also accused Mr. Gordon of traveling “obsessively to Hungary during the campaign” and asserting that Hungary is Russian intelligence’s Europe headquarters.
Mr. Gordon says he has traveled to a number of European capitals. He’s been to Hungary six times since the 1990s as a Navy spokesman in Italy and then as a think tank fellow giving speeches. He says he never traveled there during the campaign.
Mr. Abramson did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Mr. Gordon also filed an FBI complaint against professor Andrew (Andras) Gollner, a Hungarian dissident who teaches at Concordia University in Montreal. Mr. Gollner is a harsh critic of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Mr. Gordon’s complaint says, “Numerous blogs this year from Andras Gollner, a professor at Concordia University, whom I have never met nor spoken with, contain false and defamatory statements directed at me which have damaged my professional reputation and livelihood.”
Mr. Gordon cites as one example an April 14 Gollner blog on his Hungarian Free Press site.
The topic: “Hungary’s Role in the Collusion Between the Trump Campaign and the Russian Secret Service.”
Mr. Gollner called on the FBI to investigate Mr. Gordon for visiting Hungary, asking, “Why was it so important for him to spend so much time in this small, politically insignificant country as a member of the Trump campaign team? Who were the oligarchs or officials he met in Hungary? Does he know anything about the corrupt passport business run by [the] Orban government?”
In essence, Mr. Gollner puts Mr. Gordon at the center of supposed Russian-Trump election collusion via Hungary.
No official finding of collusion
There has been no official finding of such collusion. There have been documented Russian-Trump contacts such as Mr. Gordon and Ambassador Kislyak. The House and Senate intelligence committees have not reported, nor have their been any leaks, documenting Russia-Trump election collusion.
Contacted by email, Mr. Gollner was dismissive of Mr. Gordon and mocked his claims of a damaged reputation.
“Mr. Gordon should have been more prudent during the Trump campaign rather than associate himself and his bosses with the Hungarian autocrat, who happens to be Vladimir Putin’s Trojan Horse within the Western Alliance. I suspect, his own carelessness, overexposure may have more to do with his revenue shortfalls, than any of the questions I may have raised about his conduct.”
Mr. Gollner also said, “I’ll be very happy to organize a lecture for Mr. Gordon at my University, pass the hat around during his talk, and help him raise a bit of cash, if he tells us why he told Hungarian journalists, that once in power, Trump and Orban will become best buddies, because Mr. Orban is Mr. Trump’s role model.”
The prime minister is an unrepentant nationalist and foe of liberal U.S. billionaire George Soros, a Hungarian-born investor who champions open borders. Mr. Orban has split with the European Union by refusing to admit large numbers of migrant Muslims. He has reached out to Mr. Putin by opposing continued EU sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.
At a think tank conference in Budapest in December, Mr. Gordon praised Mr. Orban.
“We very much admire and respect Prime Minister Orban and what he is doing to make Hungary great again,” Mr. Gordon said, according to the Budapest Business Journal. “He is one of the best world leaders in my opinion because he has common sense and he understands the threats from open borders and he is trying to do something about it. I believe Mr. Trump and Mr. Orban will be good friends.”
Mr. Caputo, a New York state Republican political consultant, is steeped in Moscow ties dating back well before the current Russia scare permeating left-wing politics.
“It’s in my DNA,” he said.
The Clinton administration in the 1990s sent him to Russia to help the fledging democracy. He advised Boris Yeltsin on the rule of law and other issues. He also married a Russian. His business partner is a Russian.
“International business is legal,” he said, noting there are a number of former Clinton and Obama aides who take money from Russian interests.
During Mr. Obama’s first term, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Americans to do business in Russia and vice versa.
For roughly 40 days, Mr. Caputo said, he represented in Washington the Russian natural gas giant Gazprom, which is friendly to Mr. Putin.
The brief job, he said, apparently prompted Ms. Speier to say at a hearing that he worked for Mr. Putin as his “image consultant,” which he never did.
At the hearing, Ms. Speier asked then-FBI director James B. Comey, “So I guess my question is, what possible reason is there for the Trump campaign to hire Putin’s image consultant? Any thoughts on that, Director Comey?”
“No thoughts,” Mr. Comey said.
The hearing also featured Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, committee ranking Democrat, reading excepts from the discredited Democratic-financed dossier that accused Trump people of various felonies without proof. Trump people have called the performance McCarthyism.
Ms. Speier’s attack on Mr. Caputo that day:
“All right, let’s move on to someone else in that web. His name is Michael Caputo. He’s a PR professional, conservative radio talk show host. In 1994 he moved to Russia, and there he was working for the Agency for International Development. He was fired from that job because he refused to follow a State Department position.
“He then opened a PR firm in Moscow and married a Russian woman. He subsequently divorced her, and in 1999 his business failed. Roger Stone, a mentor to him, urged him to move to Florida and open his PR firm in Miami, which is exactly what Mr. Caputo did. And then in 2000 he worked with Gazprom-Media to improve Putin’s image in the United States.”
Roger Stone is another Trump adviser questioned in the Russia probe.
In 2001 Gazprom took control of NTV, which the BBC called the country’s only independent national news station.
Mr. Caputo told The Times that Ms. Speier condensed his resume to make it look like he and Mr. Stone were somehow involved in Russia, which Mr. Stone was not.
Mr. Caputo said he was fired by a nongovernment organization because he refused to use Clinton administration talking points following Duma (parliament) elections.
“I worked for Gasprom for 40 days to explain to U.S. reporters why they bought a TV station,” Mr. Caputo said. “I was not working for Putin nor even speaking of or with the Kremlin.”
Ms. Speier’s spokesperson did not return messages.
Mr. Caputo points out that he wrote a 2004 op-ed in The Washington Post criticizing Mr. Putin.
In 2007 he worked for Volodymyr Lytvyn, who headed the Ukraine parliament, against a Kremlin-supported Ukrainian political party.
After watching Ms. Speier make what he considered false allegations, he requested to testify before the House committee, which he did behind closed doors last summer. He said Ms. Speier did not attend.
But in July she went on CNN and accused him of lying under oath — a felony.
“From what I understand, Mr. Caputo has a number of questions that he’s going to have to answer because it appears he may have actually lied,” the congresswoman said.
Mr. Caputo said he then decided to file his ethics complaint.
“It appears that Rep. Speier has a vendetta against me and is determined to ruin my reputation,” he wrote. “I allege that her two instances of intentional disorderly behavior, broadcast to millions on live national television, have damaged my reputation and my business, causing my family great hardship.”
He said he has also filed complaints with the FBI cybercomplaint web page.