By Jonny Hallam, Kristen Holmes and Marshall Cohen, CNN
(CNN) — Former President Donald Trump is suing retired British intelligence officer Christopher Steele over the controversial dossier he compiled which shook Washington with its unverified and salacious allegations about Trump.
The lawsuit – which brings a data protection claim against Steele and his business, Orbis Business Intelligence – is the latest twist in the dossier saga since it became public in January 2017, days before Trump took office.
The central allegations, that Trump conspired with the Kremlin to win the 2016 election and that Russia had compromising information on him, were given a veneer of credibility by many because they originated from Steele, who had a solid reputation.
But over the years, the credibility of the dossier has significantly diminished. A series of US government investigations and lawsuits have discredited many of its central allegations and exposed the unreliability of Steele’s sources.
Trump has repeatedly denied the claims Steele put forward, and the former president’s UK legal team is asking that the “inaccurate data contained within the Steele Dossier be erased or rectified together with the payment of damages,” Tim Lowles, a lawyer for Trump in the UK, told CNN last month.
The former president’s legal action is set to start on October 16 with a two-day hearing into the claim at London’s High Court, according to court documents. Trump is not expected to attend the hearing, according to a source familiar with his plans.
CNN has reached out to Orbis Business Intelligence for comment.
Trump’s new lawsuit comes several months after special counsel John Durham wrapped up his criminal inquiry into potential wrongdoing in the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe.
Durham further exposed problems with Steele’s handiwork and the material in his dossier. However, Durham’s criminal case against Steele’s primary sub-source ended in an acquittal last year.
That sub-source, Russian analyst Igor Danchenko, told US investigators that the information he passed onto Steele was mostly “hearsay,” “just talk,” “word of mouth,” and came from “conversations he had with friends over beers,” according to Justice Department reports. Danchenko also said Steele puffed up the memos and leaned too hard into the raw information he received.
Steele, meanwhile, has always maintained that his claims was unverified, required further investigation and were not meant for public disclosure. “I stand by the work we did, the sources that we had, and the professionalism which we applied to it,” Steele said in 2021 in his first TV interview about the dossier.
Multiple US government inquiries uncovered dozens of contacts between Trump campaign associates and Russians, which have since been acknowledged. Trump himself and his closest advisers even welcomed the Kremlin’s interference in the election. Still, none of it added up to the collusion suggested in Steele’s memos.
The money trail behind the Steele dossier has also been a subject of intense political scrutiny for years. About one year after the 2016 election, it became public that Steele was indirectly paid by Democrats to research Trump. More than $1 million flowed from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and Democratic National Committee to the law firm Perkins Coie, which then hired the opposition research company Fusion GPS. That company later hired Steele and asked him to use his overseas contacts to dig up dirt about Trump’s ties to Russia.
US election regulators ultimately fined Clinton’s campaign and the DNC for not properly disclosing the money they spent on the opposition research that led to the dossier.
Steele has faced a series of civil lawsuits in the US and UK stemming from the dossier. As part of Durham’s scrutiny of the underlying Trump-Russia probe, he investigated some of Steele’s contacts with the FBI, but never charged the retired spy.
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CNN’s Marshall Cohen contributed to this report.