Legal fight breaks out over deposition of Trump dossier author Christopher Steele

Judge Ursula Ungaro

Lawyers for the British author of an unverified intelligence dossier at the center of the Trump-Russia controversy are fighting an effort to force him into a deposition in connection with a libel suit stemming from BuzzFeed’s publication of the salacious document.

On Thursday afternoon, attorneys for former British MI6 intelligence officer Christopher Steele asked a federal judge in Miami not to grant the request, but Steele’s lawyers’ motion was filed a couple of hours after U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro issued a formal request for Steele’s testimony.

Judge Requested Judicial Assistance by Syndicated News SNN.BZ on Scribd

Christopher Steel Deposition by Syndicated News SNN.BZ on Scribd

Plaintiffs Opposition Steele’s Deposition anti-Trump Dossier by Syndicated News SNN.BZ on Scribd

Ungaro’s request was signed by the judge and sealed by the court clerk, but it was unclear if it was formally delivered to the British court to which it was addressed or whether it could be called back and canceled.

The demand for Steele’s testimony was issued at the request of lawyers for Aleksej Gubarev, a Russian internet entrepreneur who was mentioned in the dossier and contends he was libeled by its claims about his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Earlier this year, Gubarev sued BuzzFeed and its editor-in-chief, Ben Smith, in a Florida court over BuzzFeed’s publication of the document. Gubarev also sued Steele in a British court.

In the motion filed Thursday, Steele’s lawyers argue that the effort to force him to give a deposition in England amounts to an “end-run” around the British legal process.

“The deposition sought is impermissible and unlawful on multiple grounds, not the least of which is that the self-same Plaintiffs have a direct defamation action pending against Mr. Steele in the United Kingdom in which the requested deposition is strictly prohibited,” Steele attorney Christina Eikhoff wrote. “Plaintiffs thus are seeking to employ this Court in an end-run around their limitations in their parallel U.K. action.”

Steele’s lawyers, from Atlanta-based law firm Alston & Bird, asked Ungaro for a two-week delay in order to present more detailed arguments about why Steele’s deposition should not be taken.

Gubarev’s lawyers filed a response Thursday evening urging that the judge not to allow Steele to intervene in the Florida case to challenge the deposition request.

“Mr. Steele’s Motion is more than a little ironic: it is not the Plaintiffs who are seeking to do an end-run around the proper judicial forum, but rather Mr. Steele,” Gubarev attorney Val Gurvits and other lawyers wrote. “If Mr. Steele believes that such a deposition should not be permitted under British law, he will have the procedures available to him under British law to convince the British courts of the same. It is well established that, if as Mr. Steele contends, his deposition would somehow conflict with British law, it is the British courts that must make such a determination.”

Gubarev’s legal team also describes as “moot” the issue Steele is seeking to raise, since the judge already issued the request for the deposition.

Eikhoff did not respond to requests for comment. A BuzzFeed spokesman declined to comment.

Even if Steele did appear at a deposition, it’s far from clear any useful testimony would be forthcoming. Ungaro’s request notes that witnesses in U.S. legal proceedings have Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Given special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing criminal investigation, Steele might well assert his right to remain silent. But his doing so could have an impact in the civil lawsuits.

U.S. House and Senate investigators are also eager to talk to Steele. POLITICO reported last week that earlier this summer two House Intelligence Committee staffers traveled to London in an effort to make contact with the spy-turned-private investigator, but were apparently unsuccessful. Senate investigators had been trying to broker a deal to get Steele’s testimony and were reportedly angered by the House foray.

Josh Gerstein is a senior reporter for POLITICO.

It’s Dangerous To Be A Russian Official These Days

Seven Russian officials, most of them diplomats, have died since November. In chronological order:

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, Election Day in the U.S., Sergei Krivov died of a heart attack, or of a fall, inside the Russian consulate in New York.

Two diplomats were shot dead on December 19. Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, 62-year-old Andrei Karlov, was murdered by an off-duty police officer at a photo exhibit in Ankara. Petr Polshikov was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in his Moscow apartment the same day. He was the chief advisor to the Foreign Ministry’s Latin American department.

A week later, former KGB General Oleg Erovinkin, 61, who may have been a source for ex-British spy Christopher Steele’s Trump dossier, was found dead in the back of his car in Moscow.

On Jan. 9, Russia’s consul in Athens, Andrei Malinin, was found dead in his apartment.

Three weeks later, on Jan. 26, Russia’s ambassador to India, 68-year-old Alexander Kadakin, died in New Delhi of heart failure.

On Feb. 20, Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., died of a suspected heart attack.

 

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