The owners of a Russian bank filed a lawsuit against the online publication BuzzFeed on Friday for publishing an uncorroborated dossier that alleged they were part of a Russian scheme to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Khan of Alfa Bank are seeking unspecified damages from BuzzFeed, editor-in-chief Ben Smith, reporter Ken Bensinger, and editors Miriam Elder and Mark Schoofs.
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The dossier published Jan. 10 included explosive claims that Russian officials had compiled compromising information about Republican Donald Trump. Trump called the report "fake news."
BuzzFeed admitted that the allegations were unverified and "potentially unverifiable" but defended publishing the report because it said Americans "can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect." Other news outlets withheld publishing most details about the unverified claims because they couldn't confirm them.
The dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent claimed that Fridman, Aven and Khan had a history of exchanging illicit favors with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The lawsuit filed in state court in Manhattan says BuzzFeed defamed the plaintiffs by alleging that they were "required to do President Putin's bidding" and by linking them to the alleged Russian campaign to interfere in the U.S. election.
BuzzFeed spokesman Matt Mittenthal said in a statement, "Given that the allegations contained in the dossier were presented to successive presidents and remain under active investigation by intelligence agencies and Congress, there is little doubt that their publication was and continues to be in the public interest."
He added, "That makes it all the more important that this shameless attempt to bully and intimidate BuzzFeed News not have a chilling effect on other journalists who continue to report this important story."