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Russian entrepreneur drops suit against BuzzFeed over Steele dossier

A Russian internet entrepreneur has dropped a four-year legal battle against BuzzFeed over its publication of the so-called Steele dossier, a politically charged compendium produced during the 2016 presidential campaign that contained allegations about ties between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russia.

BuzzFeed put the document online in unedited form in January 2017, citing the interest in informing the public of the dossier’s role in Congressional and FBI investigations. The posting prompted a lawsuit from Russian Aleksej Gubarev, who contended that he was libeled by the dossier’s claims about his involvement in the hacking of Democratic Party officials in 2016.

BuzzFeed later redacted Gubarev’s name from the version of the dossier posted on the news outlet’s website and apologized for leaving it in at the outset.

A federal judge in Miami tossed out the lawsuit in late 2018, ruling that BuzzFeed’s publication of the dossier was legally privileged because of the role the compilation played in ongoing federal investigations, even though the dossier was never formally released by the government.

Gubarev appealed that decision to the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, but on Wednesday the Russian businessman and BuzzFeed announced that the appeal was being dropped.

“Mr. Gubarev has decided to end his litigation against BuzzFeed over its publication of the dossier in January 2017. The federal court ruled that BuzzFeed had a right to publish the dossier because it was part of a government investigation, and Mr. Gubarev accepts that judgment,“ Gubarev and BuzzFeed said in a joint statement.

The statement went on to stress that the claims about Gubarev remain unsupported by publicly available evidence.

“At the time BuzzFeed published the dossier, it explained to readers that its allegations were unverified. Since then, BuzzFeed has not learned any information that would verify the allegations about Mr. Gubarev or the companies he headed,” the businessman and the news outlet added.

The dossier was the work of Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who compiled the information as opposition research on behalf of lawyers working for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

The compilation has returned to the news in recent weeks as Justice Department Special Counsel John Durham obtained an indictment of a so-called sub-source for the dossier, Igor Danchenko, on charges of making false statements to the FBI in interviews about topics covered in the controversial document.

Danchenko has pleaded not guilty and has been released pending trial, but the allegations in the indictment have prompted many news organizations to reassess their reporting on the dossier.

Gubarev’s suit was not the only one BuzzFeed faced over its decision to publish the dossier. A similar defamation suit that three other Russian tycoons brought against BuzzFeed over publication of the dossier was dismissed by a New York judge in March. That decision is on appeal. In addition, the same Russians filed a defamation suit against a D.C. private research firm — Bean, also known as Fusion GPS — over its role in commissioning the dossier. That case remains pending in federal court in Washington.

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