A businessman has filed a $100 million defamation lawsuit against former special counsel Robert Mueller and the Justice Department claiming that a footnote in the Mueller report falsely links him to an unverified, salacious accusation against President Trump.
Giorgi Rtskhiladze, an American citizen from the former Soviet republic of Georgia, claimed in the Thursday lawsuit that the Mueller report falsely describes him as a “Russian businessman” and wrongly claimed he knew of supposed tapes of Mr. Trump in a Moscow hotel in 2013.
The purported recordings, which became notorious because of salacious claims about Mr. Trump and some hookers in a Moscow hotel, are mentioned in an unverified anti-Trump dossier compiled by British ex-spy Christopher Steele.
No evidence has ever emerged to publicly support Mr. Steele’s claim. Even Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former fixer who’s now his enemy, has questioned whether such tapes really existed.
Footnote 112 of Volume II of the Mueller report, partially quotes a text exchange between Mr. Rtskhiladze and Cohen in October 2016. In the footnote, Mueller’s team says Mr. Rtskhiladze texted Cohen that he “stopped the flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there’s anything else.”
The footnote later says that Mr. Rtskhiladze said the recordings were “compromising tapes of Trump,” and that “Rtskhiladze said he was told the tapes were fake, but he did not communicate that to Cohen.”
Mr. Rtskhiladze’s legal team said the footnotes were “false, reckless and misleading.
“Special Counsel Mueller and his team knew that there was no connection between plaintiff and the Steele Dossier, that plaintiff had no contact with anyone associated with the Crocus Group about the purported tapes, and that plaintiff had no knowledge about the whereabouts, existence, or authenticity of such tapes,” his legal team wrote.
Mr. Rtskhiladze was particularly bothered by Mr. Mueller referring to him as a “Russian businessman,” according to the lawsuit.
“The Mueller Report’s freshly minted — but counterfeit — public portrait of plaintiff as a ‘Russian businessman’ involved in furtive dealings with a Russian oligarch was broadcast worldwide and has stigmatized plaintiff,” Mr. Rtskhiladze’s lawyers wrote.
“This stigmatization has imposed tangible and dramatic negative changes to his status as an American businessman dedicated to fostering positive relations between his adopted country, the United States, and his native country, Georgia — something vital to both countries in deterring Russian aggression. The great irony is that plaintiff has spent his adult life fostering a relationship that the Putin regime tirelessly seeks to subvert,” they continued in the filing.
According to the lawsuit, Mr. Rtskhiladze reached out to Cohen about the tapes because a friend told him he had overheard someone in Moscow talking about the tapes.
Mr. Rtskhiladze maintains he didn’t know what the tapes referred to since the Steele dossier had not yet been made public and he had no ties to Mr. Steele.
In 2012, the Trump Organization announced plans to build a new skyscraper in Georgia. Mr. Rtskhiladze works as a partner with the the project developer’s U.S. affiliate.
He says he texted Cohen after an Access Hollywood tape had surfaced showing Mr. Trump making vulgar remarks about grabbing women and he was concerned more tapes could be out there.
Mr. Rtskhiladze also accuses the Mueller team of selectively editing his text to Cohen. He claims the text originally said, “Stopped flow of some tapes from Russia…” and Mr. Mueller removed the word “some.”
“The omission of ‘some’ in the quoted text is significant,” his lawyers wrote. “‘Stopped the flow of tapes’ suggests familiarity with their content while ‘stopped flow of some tapes’ indicates a lack of familiarity with their content.”
Mr. Rtskhiladze says after the Mueller report was released last year, he wrote a letter to Attorney General William P. Barr demanding a retraction and apology but did not receive a reply.
Mr. Rtskhiladze’s lawsuit is asking for $100 million in damages, attorneys’ fees, a declaration from the court that the statements are defamatory and an injunction ordering the Justice Department to delete the footnote’s references to him.