In a motion filed Wednesday, BuzzFeed asked a Florida court to compel “very limited testimony from” former FBI Director James Comey and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper as part of a defamation lawsuit brought against the digital media company.
The suit was brought by Aleksej Gubarev, a Russian technology entrepreneur who’s name BuzzFeed failed to redact in January when it published an unverified dossier alleging collusion between Donald Trump and Russian officials. That dossier—which BuzzFeed released just weeks before Trump’s inauguration—said Gubarev’s company XBT was involved in efforts to hack the Democratic National Committee.
A lawyer for BuzzFeed, Nathan Siegel, told Vanity Fair his client was right to publish the unverified dossier because it “had become the subject of official government activity in a variety of ways.”
“The point was that this is something the American people have a right to know about,” Siegel said.
Indeed, as special counsel Robert Mueller and multiple Congressional committees probe Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, reports indicate investigators are zeroing in on subject of that dossier. The Independent on Wednesday reported Mueller has “contacted and taken evidence from a number of figures named in the dossier.” And last month, Glenn Simpson—founder of Fusion GPS, which commissioned the dossier—testified for ten hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
BuzzFeed is seeking “very limited testimony” from Comey and, “if necessary,” Clapper, “concerning roughly ten topics covering the public statements previously made about briefings, the existence of an investigation, and merely confirming the receipt of materials from Senator McCain.” As Vanity Fair notes, McCain received the dossier last November and immediately took it to Comey.
“BuzzFeed simply wants to ask the government to confirm some basic facts, about what it was doing with the dossier, that are not really different from what has been widely reported,” Siegel said. “What we are asking for is to provide, under oath, the same kind of information that has been widely reported not under oath.”
As the Trump-Russia continues to unfold, the dossier remains a “roadmap” for U.S. officials, according to individuals with knowledge of the investigation.
“Since BuzzFeed published the dossier, the dossier has been at the epicenter of the most important political controversy of this year,” Siegel told Vanity Fair. “It would be very difficult for the public to understand Jim Comey’s firing, the nature of the allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, and on and on and on. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on, it’s simply a question of having knowledge about it. I think that the passage of time has made clear that it was the right thing to do.”