BuzzFeed, the online publication that first told you which type of sandwich best describes your personality, has been gathering information over the last six months to verify some of the “pee tape” dossier allegations the publication made against Donald Trump. The investigation, led by former FBI and White House cybersecurity official Anthony Ferrante, arose after Russian technology executive Aleksej Gubarev sued the website for libel, claiming that they were reckless in publishing the series of memos written by British spy Christopher Steele.
BuzzFeed was the first outlet to publish the dossier, which included allegations that Russia has a sex tape of the president. Last year, The Washington Post revealed that part of the research leading to this dossier was paid for by then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the DNC. BuzzFeed hired Ferrante, who left the White House in 2017 after overseeing the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, landing at FTI Consulting, where he was given the task of verifying the dossier. The 35-page document written by Steele included unverified claims that the servers belonging to a company owned by Gubarev were used to hack the Democratic party’s computer system during the 2016 election.
Evan Fray-Witzer, a lawyer for Gubarev, strongly denies those allegations, mocking BuzzFeed in a statement to Foreign Policy, saying: “They can hire Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, or Sherlock Holmes—you can’t find what doesn’t exist.” Fray-Witzer continues his written statement to FP, saying, “There is a simple reason why BuzzFeed hasn’t found any evidence to support the allegations in the Dossier against Mr. Gubarev: the allegations are false.”
One source familiar with the investigation told FP, “If it’s fact, it’s not libel, that’s the idea.” Proving at least some of the allegations first published by BuzzFeed are true would not only be beneficial to the website’s case, but would also be of interest to FBI special counsel Robert Mueller, who is currently investigating possible collusion between the president and Russia.
The dossier drove Trump’s personal lawyer, Michel Cohen, to launch a subsequent lawsuit against BuzzFeed for defamation. Spokesman for the website Matt Mittenthal told CNN in a statement:
The dossier is, and continues to be, the subject of active investigations by Congress and intelligence agencies. It was presented to two successive Presidents, and has been described in detail by news outlets around the world. Its interest to the public is obvious. This is not the first time Trump’s personal lawyer has attacked the free press, and we look forward to defending our First Amendment rights in court.
While Mittenthal has declined to comment on the specific legal tools being used to defend BuzzFeed’s First Amendment rights, the first indications of what Ferrante and FTI may have found might come as soon as Thursday, when a Florida court designated to oversee the action will hold a hearing, most likely revealing the expert witnesses who will testify in the case.