In the new legal filing obtained by CNN, lawyers for former British spy Christopher Steele argue that his investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, funded by political opponents of Trump, also served a vital national security interest, and that Steele felt obligated to get his work to senior national security officials.
But Steele also concedes that some of the information he passed along to the US and UK governments still “needed to be analyzed and further investigated/verified,” according to the court filing. This acknowledgment from Steele referred specifically to one memo he wrote, not his entire dossier.
The filing, first reported by the Washington Times, seeks to defend Steele’s involvement in a case against him that claims he failed to do “even the most basic attempt at verification.” The defamation case against Steele is playing out in the High Court in London, which is roughly the same as a trial court in the US.
CNN has reported that US investigators have corroborated some aspects of the dossier
though not some of the more salacious allegations. The FBI used some materials from the dossier in its successful request for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to conduct surveillance on Trump associate Carter Page.
Steele was hired through an American firm that was paid by Republicans during the primaries, then Democrats seeking to stop Trump’s candidacy. He wrote 16 memos during the presidential campaign and says he stopped working his sources after the election. But he “continued to receive unsolicited intelligence” and felt compelled to write another memo on December 13, the court filing says.
In this final memo, Steele accused Russian entrepreneur Aleksej Gubarev, and his technology companies, of secretly working for the Russian intelligence agency known as the FSB.
Gubarev, who owns tech firms XBT Holding and Webzilla, denies that he helped Russia with its cyber operations against Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. He is now suing Steele
in the UK for defamation. He is also suing BuzzFeed in the US, which published the dossier in full.
CNN reported in January
that senior intelligence officials had briefed then-President Barack Obama and President-elect Trump about its existence. CNN also reported that Steele passed along copies of his-pre-election memos to an FBI official in Rome and also to Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, who then personally delivered a copy to FBI Director James Comey.
The court filing explains for the first time why Steele felt it necessary to pass along his December memo to top American and British officials. By that time, both countries already possessed intelligence about the Trump campaign’s possible links to Russia, and the Brits had shared information with Washington.
“The Defendants were under a duty to pass the information in the December memorandum to the senior UK government national security official and Sen. McCain so that it was known to the United Kingdom and United States governments at a high level by persons with responsibility for national security,” the court filing says. “These recipients had a corresponding duty or interest to receive it in their capacities as senior representatives of those governments with such responsibilities.”
Even if Steele thought his memos needed to be urgently shared with the government, his lawyers insist that the memos were never meant to be publicly released. They say Steele held some off-the-record briefings with reporters before the election but never provided them with documents for publication.
Therefore, Steele claims that he and his company “are not liable for publication by BuzzFeed,” the filing says. BuzzFeed currently faces its own defamation lawsuit brought by Gubarev in a federal court in Florida.
Gubarev’s lawyer said in an interview that he thought Steele’s defense would fall flat.
“I suppose when you don’t have anything really good to say, then you say the next best thing, and I think that’s what (Steele) ended up doing,” said Val Gurvits, an attorney for Gubarev and his companies. “If you are an intelligence-gathering expert, then ‘raw and unsolicited’ intelligence really means you have no idea what it is, you didn’t think much about it or check it, and you copied-and-pasted it.”