Lawyers for President Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen have withdrawn defamation lawsuits against BuzzFeed and the political research firm Fusion GPS related to a dossier that included claims Cohen helped organize Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election.
The lawsuits, withdrawn late Wednesday, would have required Cohen to submit to an evidence discovery process, forcing him to produce documentation and sworn testimony about his activities before the closely contested election.
Among other things, the dossier alleged that Cohen had traveled to Prague and met with Russian operatives. Cohen has repeatedly denied the allegation, including in a text message Thursday morning. The assertion came from research conducted by former British spy Christopher Steele, who was working for Fusion GPS.
Cohen filed a pair of lawsuits in January, one in federal court and one in state court in New York, claiming he could prove that the allegation was false and had harmed his reputation. BuzzFeed was the first to publish the dossier.
In a statement, Cohen’s attorney said he continues to deny the allegations but had to concentrate on other legal matters after FBI raids last week on his office, home and hotel room.
On Friday, the Justice Department said Cohen has been “under criminal investigation” over his business dealings.
“The decision to voluntarily discontinue these cases was a difficult one,” Cohen’s attorney David Schwartz said. “We believe the defendants defamed my client, and vindicating Mr. Cohen’s rights was — and still remains — important. But given the events that have unfolded, and the time, attention and resources needed to prosecute these matters, we have dismissed the matters, despite their merits.”
FBI agents raided Cohen’s Manhattan office, home and hotel room this month as part of the investigation, seizing records about Cohen’s clients and personal finances. Among the records taken were those related to a 2016 payment Cohen made to adult-film star Stormy Daniels, who claims to have had a sexual encounter with Trump.
In a statement, Fusion GPS said the firm was not surprised by Cohen’s decision to withdraw what it called a “meritless complaint.”
Pursuing it, the firm said, would require Cohen to “face a discovery process that would have forced him to defend his reputation and address the allegations of the Steele dossier under penalty of perjury.”
BuzzFeed said in a statement that the withdrawal of the lawsuits suggests that “Donald Trump’s personal lawyer no longer thinks an attack on the free press is worth his time.”
BuzzFeed also defended its publication of the dossier, saying it was “an important part of the government’s investigation into potential collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russia. Its interest to the public is, and always has been, obvious.”
The dossier had been circulating for some time among news outlets before the 2016 election. But its full content — including salacious and unverified claims involving Trump’s past activities in Moscow — was not made public until January 2017, when BuzzFeed published it.
A year later, Cohen filed a federal lawsuit against Fusion GPS and a separate lawsuit in a New York State Court against BuzzFeed.
In both cases, Cohen said that the report contained “false and defamatory” claims that caused “harm to his personal and professional reputation, current business interests and the impairment of business opportunities.”
Trump did not respond Thursday to shouted questions from reporters about Cohen after a stop at the military’s Joint Interagency Task Force South in Key West, Fla., where he received a briefing on illegal trafficking.
Tom Hamburger and Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.