A lawyer for a Russian businessman suing BuzzFeed over the infamous dossier suggested on Thursday that the website’s source for the salacious document has finally been identified.
Val Gurvits, a lawyer for Russian tech businessman Aleksej Gubarev, made the revelation in response to a federal magistrate judge’s ruling in favor of BuzzFeed.
Magistrate Judge John J. O’Sullivan ruled in a Miami court on Thursday that BuzzFeed was protected by reporter’s privilege from having to identify the person who provided it with the dossier.
Gubarev’s lawyers have battled for months to figure out who gave BuzzFeed the unverified document, which was written by former British spy Christopher Steele and published on Jan. 10.
The attorneys have sought to find out what BuzzFeed’s source said about the veracity of the dossier. If the source told BuzzFeed that the allegations in the report were unverified, shaky or false, Gubarev’s attorneys would argue that the website was negligent in publishing Steele’s allegations.
The final memo of the dossier — dated Dec. 13, 2016 — alleges that Gubarev and two of his tech companies hacked into the DNC’s computer systems. Gubarev vehemently denied the allegations and filed suit in February. BuzzFeed apologized to Gubarev and redacted his name from the version of the dossier that it published online.
BuzzFeed has argued that it is protected by the First Amendment from having to reveal confidential sources.
O’Sullivan’s ruling backed up that argument in a move praised by BuzzFeed.
“We’re pleased the judge has reaffirmed the right of news organizations to safeguard the identities of sources — a right that is protected under both state and federal law,” BuzzFeed spokeswoman Katie Rayford told Remnant News of O’Sullivan’s ruling.
But the ruling is moot, says Gurvits.
“What the Court really said here is that before BuzzFeed could be required to tell us its source, we had to try to get the information from other places,” he said.
“As it turns out, we were able to get the information we wanted and were actually in the process of withdrawing the Motion when this decision issued.”
“And while I cannot as of yet reveal this information, it is certainly not something I would celebrate if I was BuzzFeed,” he added.
Gurvits was unable to identify BuzzFeed’s source because of a gag order imposed on the case, he said.
Asked for a response to Gurvit’s remarks, Rayford shot back, saying that “the First Amendment gives plaintiffs every right to try to spin a loss as a win, but in this case it will not work.”
“The issue before the court was about protecting sources and the judge ruled clearly in BuzzFeed’s favor,” she said.
While Gurvits said he is as yet unable to reveal the BuzzFeed source, the universe of people who handled the document is exceedingly small.
Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that hired Steele, had access to the report. But its lawyers have denied in court filings that the company provided the dossier to BuzzFeed.
Steele has denied in court filings in London, where he is being sued by Gubarev, that he gave the dossier to BuzzFeed. Arizona Sen. John McCain has also denied being BuzzFeed’s source. The Republican was provided a copy of the dossier last December.
One person known to have handled the dossier who has not publicly denied being BuzzFeed’s source is David Kramer, a former State Department official who served as an executive at the McCain Institute.
McCain dispatched Kramer to London on Nov. 28, 2016 to meet with Steele. During the meeting, Kramer and Steele agreed that the retired spy would provide McCain with the dossier. Steele has revealed in court filings that Kramer and McCain obtained the document through Fusion.
Kramer had avoided commenting on his handling of the dossier for months, dodging media questions and subpoena requests from Gubarev’s lawyers. But, he was finally deposed by Gubarev’s legal team earlier this month. He was also interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee earlier this week.