Three Russian bankers have filed a libel suit against the Washington political operative who hired the former British spy to write a dossier that was used to sully Donald Trump and his presidential campaign with unverified Kremlin gossip.
Its marks the fifth libel lawsuit filed by people accused of felonies by former intelligence officer Christopher Steele and his paymaster, former Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson.
Despite its unproven charges, the dossier has done much to fuel the liberal narrative in Washington that the Trump campaign and Moscow colluded to hack Democratic Party computers.
The three Russians, who own Moscow’s Alfa bank, previously sued BuzzFeed. The news site posted the unredacted dossier in January.
BuzzFeed and Mr. Steele also were sued by a Russian tech CEO in Florida and London courts. Mr. Steele accused Aleksej Gubarev of creating a botnet that invaded Democratic computers with pornography and spyware.
Former Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page, whom Mr. Steele accused of meeting with sanctioned Russians in Moscow in a conspiracy to end U.S. sanctions, sued Yahoo News and HuffPost for repeating what Mr. Page says are false accusations.
The latest lawsuit was brought by Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Khan, who together control Alfa bank. It appears to be the first dossier-related lawsuit against Mr. Simpson and his Fusion GPS opposition research firm, which hired Mr. Steele with money from a Hillary Clinton backer. Mr. Simpson has testified in private before the Senate Judiciary Committee and refused to identify the funder.
Mr. Steele accuses Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven and Mr. Khan of bribing Russian President Vladimir Putin in a scheme that exists to this day. The dossier also says the three cooperated in a Kremlin campaign to interfere in the U.S. presidential election last year.
“Neither the Plaintiffs nor Alfa committed any of the acts irresponsibly attributed to them,” their lawsuit says.
“Opposition research, in essence, is the gathering of information for the purpose of eventually discrediting or otherwise harming a candidate for a public office,” the lawsuit says. “Opposition research is neither objective nor neutral. Instead, it is skewed from the outset in favor of appearing to find negative information about individuals — the essence of the product that political opposition research practitioners are hired to produce.”
The lawsuit attempts to meet the stiff legal test for libel. It says Mr. Simpson knew the accusations had not been verified yet did not contact the three bank owners before spreading the charges around Washington.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court by the New York Law firm Carter Ledyard & Milburn and its attorneys Alan S. Lewis and John J. Walsh. It asked for unspecified damages.
A Washington Times analysis of the dossier’s 35 pages, compiled from June 2016 to December, shows seven major accusations of criminality. In each case, the targets have proved the charge untrue or adamantly denied it.
Mr. Steele, in a court filing in London in the Gubarev lawsuit, admitted he never verified the accusations in the dossier and said it should never have been made public.
Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said Wednesday that Mr. Steele has refused to speak with the panel.