Long before Robert Mueller was appointed as a Special Counsel, a former British intelligence agent named Christopher Steele was hired by a private intelligence company, Fusion GPS, to gather opposition research on a first-time candidate for office, Donald Trump.
While the research was initially commissioned in 2015 by a conservative website, The Free Beacon, to provide other Republicans with potentially damaging information on Trump, once he became a serious contender for the GOP nomination, Democrats signed on to get access to the company’s intel.
After Trump clinched the Republican nomination, The Free Beacon ceased its financing of the research and the Steele Dossier, as the report became known, was solely in Democratic hands. There it remained until right before Trump’s inauguration when on January 10, 2017, Buzzfeed published the full dossier online.
The publication was explosive, exposing for the first time allegations of extensive collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government as well as some rather salacious allegations about the existence of a video of the candidate’s participation in titillating activities with Russian prostitutes that would have given Moscow significant extortionary leverage over the then-incoming president.
Trump and his Republican enablers have been apoplectic over the Steele dossier ever since Buzzfeed published it, denying the veracity of its contents, casting aspersions on Steele, and painting his report as a politically motivated pack of lies compiled by Democrats in collusion with crooked “Deep State” operatives, while ignoring its origins with the president’s GOP opponents.
While the existence of the dossier’s alleged “pee tape” has yet to be confirmed, subsequent investigations by the FBI and the Special Counsel’s office have proven that much of the information contained in Steele’s report is valid, and Mueller has the guilty pleas to offer as evidence.
Trump and his supporters have continued to try to discredit the Steele Dossier at every opportunity. Buzzfeed itself faced retaliation for its publication in the form of a defamation lawsuit filed by a Russian mentioned in the document, Aleksej Gubarev.
Today, Buzzfeed was vindicated by a federal judge in that suit today who ruled that the website’s publication of the document was not defamatory under U.S. laws permitting reporting on official proceedings.
NEW: A federal judge in Florida has sided with BuzzFeed (my employer) in a defamation lawsuit brought over the publication of the Trump dossier. Judge found the fair report privilege applied because it involved an official proceeding https://t.co/3nSQDasF3z pic.twitter.com/jXs8xwCZUN
— Zoe Tillman (@ZoeTillman) December 19, 2018
Given that the Steele Dossier uncovered a level of corruption and betrayal unprecedented in U.S. history, Buzzfeed should be lauded rather than sued for bringing it to public attention.
Perhaps the most salient view of the dossier’s value is contained in an excellent retrospective published by Lawfare on their blog which analyzes how subsequent revelations in the Trump-Russia probe line up with the allegations in Steele’s report.
“The Mueller investigation has clearly produced public records that confirm pieces of the dossier. And even where the details are not exact, the general thrust of Steele’s reporting seems credible in light of what we now know about extensive contacts between numerous individuals associated with the Trump campaign and Russian government officials.”
“However, there is also a good deal in the dossier that has not been corroborated in the official record and perhaps never will be—whether because it’s untrue, unimportant or too sensitive. As a raw intelligence document, the Steele dossier, we believe, holds up well so far. But surely there is more to come from Mueller’s team.”
So much for “A TOTAL WITCH HUNT LIKE NO OTHER IN AMERICAN HISTORY!” as Trump has tweeted.
Time to fly off on your broom, President Trump.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.