In Legal Peril at Home, Trump Turns to a U.K. Court for Vindication

Donald J. Trump was thousands of miles away from the vaulted chamber in Britain’s Royal Courts of Justice on Monday. But his words echoed in a lawsuit he has filed in London against Christopher Steele, a former British spy whose dossier of unproven links between Mr. Trump and Russia caused a political uproar back in 2017.

“The inaccurate personal data in the Dossier has, and continues, to cause me significant damage and distress,” the former president said in a signed statement circulated by his lawyers. “A judgment of the English court on this issue will be an immense relief to me as it will completely confirm the true position to the public.”

Mr. Trump’s words came on a day of trans-Atlantic legal maneuvering. At home, he lashed out against a judge in Washington who imposed a limited gag order on him in the federal case over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. In London, lawyers for Mr. Trump invoked their client’s testimony to argue that Mr. Steele’s firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, had breached British data protection laws.

This is the first case Mr. Trump has filed in Britain related to the dossier, published just before he took office, and it appears calculated to find more favorable legal terrain after a federal judge in Florida threw out a lawsuit last year that Mr. Trump filed against Mr. Steele, Hillary Clinton, and others, related to the Russia allegations.

Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Hugh Tomlinson, said his client would give evidence in court if the justice, Karen Steyn, agreed to let the case go to trial. But a lawyer for Orbis argued that the court should throw out the case because the statute of limitations had expired on Mr. Trump’s claims of data protection violations.

Antony White, the lawyer for Orbis, said any damage to Mr. Trump’s reputation resulted from the publication of the dossier by Buzzfeed in January 2017, over which Mr. Steele had no control. He also noted that Mr. Trump only brought his case in Britain after his case against Mr. Steele was dismissed in the United States.

Mr. White suggested it was a pattern of frivolous litigation against Mr. Steele. He was in the courtroom, taking copious notes and nodding or shaking his head as his lawyers, and Mr. Trump’s, made their arguments on the first day of a two-day hearing.

Christopher Steele, center, a former British spy whose dossier of unproven links between Mr. Trump and Russia caused a political uproar in 2017, leaving court after a hearing on Monday in London.Credit…Aaron Chown/Press Association, via Associated Press

“The claim has no real prospect of success and there is no other compelling reason why it should proceed to a trial,” Mr. Steele’s lawyers said in a filing. “In any event, the claim should be struck out as an abuse of process because it has been brought for an illegitimate and vexatious purpose.”

To be sure, none of the inflammatory allegations in Mr. Steele’s dossier — including reports that Mr. Trump made illicit payments to Russian officials or cavorted with prostitutes on visits to Russia — have been substantiated. The F.B.I. concluded that one of the key allegations — that Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, had met with Russian officials in Prague during the campaign — was false.

But Mr. Trump said that Mr. Steele has continued to argue that the dossier was accurate. He cited a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, last May, in which Mr. Steele said, “Our Trump-Russia reporting has not been ‘discredited.’ In fact its main tenets continue to hold up well and almost no detail has been disproven.”

Mr. Trump denied that he had subjected Mr. Steele to what Mr. Steele called a “barrage of abuse and threats,” saying he had no role in reported cyberattacks on Mr. Steele’s business or in the publication of the home addresses of his children. Mr. Trump also claimed that Mr. Steel had impugned the reputation of his eldest daughter, Ivanka.

“My daughter, Ivanka, is completely irrelevant to this claim and any mention of her only serves to distract this court from the defendant and Mr. Steele’s reckless behavior,” he said in his statement. “Any inference or allegation that Mr. Steele makes about my relationship with my daughter is untrue and disgraceful.”

It was not clear what statements by Mr. Steele that Mr. Trump was citing. Mr. Steele exchanged emails with Ms. Trump a decade before her father ran for president, according to ABC News and CNN.

Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Mr. Tomlinson, acknowledged his client was not given to subtlety or precision in his statements, and that Mr. Trump had a long history of litigation in the United States, not all of it successful. He uses language “more familiar to U.S. than U.K. political discourse,” he said.

“It’s uncontroversial for me to say President Trump is a controversial figure,” he said. “He often expresses himself in very strong language.”

But Mr. Tomlinson said Mr. Trump was entitled to be vindicated, and to receive at least nominal damages, for the reputational harm he had suffered from allegations that he said were entirely erroneous. Though Mr. Steele did not publish the dossier, he said, it would not have existed if he had not produced it.

He pointed to a ruling in 2020, in which two Russian business moguls, Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven, won damages of 18,000 pounds ($22,900) each from Mr. Steele’s firm after they argued that allegations about them in the dossier violated data protection laws.

The court ruled that Orbis had “failed to take reasonable steps to verify” claims that Mr. Fridman and Mr. Aven, who controlled Alfa Bank, had made illicit payments to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, though the judge dismissed several other claims.

Mr. Steele has not denied sharing the dossier with journalists. But he rejected the contention that he has sought to promote its contents since then.

“I declined to provide any media interviews for three-and-a-half years after the publication of the dossier by Buzzfeed, despite being asked multiple times by major international media organizations,” he testified in a witness statement. “If I had wanted to ‘promote’ the dossier as Mr. Trump suggests, I obviously would have taken up those media opportunities.”

Related Articles

Back to top button