Left: File photo dated 04/05/23 of former U.S. President Donald Trump; Right: File photo dated 7/3/2017 of Christopher Steele, the former MI6 officer who wrote a report on Trump’s alleged links to Russia. (Press Association via AP Images)
A judge in London on Thursday dismissed a data protection lawsuit filed by Donald Trump against the private intelligence company owned by former British spy Christopher Steele.
The 41-page judgment delivered by High Court of Justice Judge Karen Steyn largely avoids discussion of the lurid allegations contained in the discredited Steele dossier by, rather, ruling on procedural grounds.
The lawsuit was originally filed in October 2022 against Steele and his co-owned company, Orbis Business Intelligence, which compiled the controversial dossier throughout 2016. The initial claims were based on two U.K. data protection laws passed in 2018. Trump’s legal team essentially moved to amend the lawsuit and only sue Orbis in February 2023 — and to include a claim based on a 1998 data protection law.
In the end, the judge determined Trump’s lawsuit contained no valid claims under the 2018 laws — because those two laws “came into force” well after the completion of the complained-of memos in the 2016 dossier. And, Steyn also found, the six-year statute of limitations for the claim based on the 1998 law had passed by the time Trump’s English barrister Hugh Tomlinson thought to include that later claim.
“I agree with the Defendant that the Claimant has no reasonable grounds for bringing a claim for compensation or damages, and no real prospect of successfully obtaining such a remedy,” the judge wrote.
Steyn is careful, however, to cabin her judgment’s relationship to the underlying facts Trump singled out when alleging “personal and reputational damage and distress” in his original complaint.
“It is important to emphasise that the Defendant has not contended that the Claimant would have no real prospect of establishing at trial that the personal data complained of is inaccurate,” the judgment reads. “The Claimant’s evidence is that the allegations are ‘wholly untrue.’ I have not considered, or made any determination, as to the accuracy or inaccuracy of the Memoranda.”
Trump’s amended lawsuit was based on two separate and sexually charged memos in the dossier — which contained 17 memos in total.
Memo 80 referred to the infamous “pee tape” in which Steele alleged Russian intelligence has video of him engaging in “perverted sexual behavior” — namely “golden showers” with sex workers in Moscow. The memo also claims Trump requested and watched the women urinate on a bed once slept on by Barack and Michelle Obama in order to somehow spite the couple. All this, the dossier claimed, provided the Russian Federation with considerable blackmail material.
Memo 113 contains claims that Trump paid bribes to Russian officials in the course of furthering his business empire. Additionally, the memo claims Trump took part in “sex parties” in St. Petersburg and then tried to coerce or bribe all the witnesses into silence.
None of those claims have ever been substantiated.
“BuzzFeed published the Dossier, including the two memoranda relied on in this claim, on 10 January 2017. The Dossier has been accessible by the world at large since then,” the judgment notes. “In this claim, the Claimant accepts that the Defendant is not responsible in law for the publication of the Memoranda by BuzzFeed.”
Instead, Steyn notes, the basis of the lawsuit’s amended claim is three disclosures of those two memos when the dossier was shared with Strobe Talbott, the then-president of the Brookings Institute, a UK national security official, and then-John McCain aide David Kramer. Steele shared the dossier with each on various dates in November 2016.
“The core of the new claim is based on the pleaded acts of dissemination in November 2016, and alleged consequential damage to the Claimant’s reputation,” Steyn writes. “It is not merely ‘reasonably arguable’ that the proposed new cause of action based on dissemination is outside the applicable limitation period. It is plain that it is.”
The judge notes that the first time the new claim appeared came “at least three months after the six year limitation period had expired” and the final amended application came “over five weeks later.”
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