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BuzzFeed Editor: ‘I’m Proud We Published the Trump-Russia Dossier’

Ben Smith, editor in chief of BuzzFeed.com, moderated the second panel with media and Hollywood leaders. (Rosa Trieu/Neon Tommy)
Neon Tommy/Flickr

BuzzFeed’s editor-in-chief Ben Smith wrote an op-ed in the New York Times on Wednesday that declared he was “proud” of publishing the dossier exactly one year ago.

“Journalistic traditionalists didn’t like the idea of sharing an unfiltered, unverified document with the public, whatever the caveats and context,” he wrote, adding that NBC News’s Chuck Todd had called it “fake news” at the time.

“But a year of government inquiries and blockbuster journalism has made clear that the dossier is unquestionably real news,” he wrote.

He added that the dossier being “real news” is a “fact that has been tacitly acknowledged,” even though he did not call the dossier a fact itself.

“It has helped journalists explain to their audience the investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 election,” he said. “The Russia investigation, meanwhile, didn’t turn out to be some minor side story but instead the central challenge to Mr. Trump’s presidency.”

Smith did not reveal how BuzzFeed got a hold of the dossier — which has recently become the source of congressional scrutiny, but he did provide an idea as to what they knew about the dossier at the time and why they published it.

He said at the time BuzzFeed published the dossier on January 10, 2017, they knew it had been written by Christopher Steele, the former head of the Russia desk for British intelligence, and that then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) had “acted” on its contents.

Recent reports have detailed how McCain met an associate of Steele at an international security forum in Canada shortly after the election. McCain then had his associate, David Kramer, travel to London to get briefed on the dossier, and arrange to have a hard copy delivered to then-FBI Director James Comey in December. Comey then briefed former President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump on the dossier, further giving it weight, in the eyes of news outlets.

Up until then, news outlets had been briefed by Fusion GPS and Steele on the dossier before the election but had refused to publish it due to its unverified nature. Some reports have speculated that Kramer gave BuzzFeed a copy of the dossier.

Smith also noted how “seriously” the FBI took the dossier, reportedly using it to justify spying on Trump campaign member Carter Page, reimbursing Steele for expenses, and using it as a “road map” for its investigation.

Since then, congressional probes have revealed that FBI officials involved in the investigation at the time had also expressed personal enmity for Trump and discussed an “insurance plan” in the case of Trump’s election. Democrats have dismissed those revelations as distractions.

Smith also argued that “some elements” of the dossier have been corroborated — but listed things that were not related to collusion and/or things that did not happen:

While Mr. Trump’s camp dismiss the dossier as malicious fiction or pure political opportunism, some elements have been corroborated. For example, that the Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort hid payments for his work in Ukraine, as federal authorities have alleged; that the Russian diplomat Mikhail Kalugin was withdrawn suddenly from the United States; and that Mr. Trump sought, but never consummated, business deals in Russia.

Mr. Steele also reported, in pages submitted just 11 days after a Russian lawyer reportedly promised Mr. Trump’s aides negative information on Hillary Clinton during a meeting in Trump Tower, that “the Kremlin had been feeding Trump and his team valuable intelligence on his opponents, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.”

Smith said criticism of Buzzfeed’s decision to publish the dossier has “faded” and that he has not had a “single person approach” him and say, “I wish I hadn’t read the dossier, and wish I had less insight into the forces at play in America.”

However, just a day before the op-ed’s publication, Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen announced he was suing Buzzfeed for publishing the dossier.

Page is also suing Buzzfeed, as is Russian businessman Aleksej Gubarev.

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