On January 10, BuzzFeed published a 35-page dossier brimming with scandalous accusations regarding US President Donald Trump's relationship with Russian government and business leaders. Eight months later, a scant helping of these accusations have been found to be at least somewhat credible while most remain outlandish and unsupported.
BuzzFeed themselves admitted that the dossier included "clear errors," but that didn't stop them from publishing it in a stunning display of journalistic integrity. Aside from the most notorious section (Trump traveled to Moscow to watch Russian sex workers urinate on a bed for his own sexual gratification), the dossier also claimed that Russian business leaders are the puppet masters pulling Trump's strings and that Russian hackers colluded with the Trump campaign to discredit Hillary Clinton.
The peeing stuff is best left unexplored. Instead, BuzzFeed came under fire over a section of the dossier claiming that Aleksej Gubarev, billionaire founder and CEO of web-hosting company Webzilla, had assisted in hacking the Democratic National Committee. Gubarev slapped BuzzFeed and Steele with libel lawsuits.
BuzzFeed has asked a federal court in Washington, DC, to get officials such as Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats, former FBI Director James Comey and former DNI James Clapper to answer questions about the federal government's alleged attempts to vet the numerous accusations in the document before it was released on January 10.
The completed dossier ended up in the hands of US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) on December 9, and BuzzFeed also wishes to know if he passed it on to US intelligence.
"The requested information here is highly relevant to BuzzFeed's ability to establish that the publication of the Article, including the Dossier, is a fair and accurate report of records that were a basis of official government actions and thus is protected by a fair report privilege pursuant to state statute, common law and/or the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States," attorney Nathan Siegel and the other lawyers representing BuzzFeed.
After all, if the allegations prove to be true, BuzzFeed has not committed any crime. Numerous news outlets have tried to get the federal government to disclose their attempts to vet the dossier, thus far without success. However, BuzzFeed may have more luck, since they are requesting the information to shore up their legal defenses.
While both Clapper and Comey have commented on the dossier in the past, the Department of Justice is resisting the disclosure on the basis that both men made their statements after they had left the US government, and thus their statements are not official acknowledgments of any investigation.
In addition, revealing details of the vetting would require disclosing classified information.
This is the second time BuzzFeed has requested information about the dossier. They originally filed for such disclosures in June, but that request included a testimony request from CIA Director John Brennan.