The private investigation firm behind the so-called Trump dossier — Fusion GPS — is arguing that a Trump-appointed federal judge has so many conflicts of interest that he should recuse himself from a legal case stemming from BuzzFeed’s publication of the dossier earlier this year.
Fusion’s lawyers say the impartiality of U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden is open to question because he represented a firm owned by a Russian businessman who claims he was libeled by publication of the dossier and he was a top lawyer at the Justice Departments Criminal Division last year when Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley requested an investigation into Fusion.
Fusion’s attorneys also say that “perhaps” the most significant conflict is McFadden’s work as a “vetter” on Trump’s transition team. That service is problematic because of repeated comments Trump has made on Twitter challenging the accuracy of the dossier, calling for release of details on how it was funded and suggesting that Fusion was involved in wrong doing.
“President-elect Trump began making public statements expressing his animosity toward Fusion GPS and its work related to the Trump Dossier during the transition,” Fusion GPS lawyers William Taylor, Steven Salky and Rachel Cotton wrote in a letter to McFadden last week urging recusal. “Mr. Trump has continued making such statements on a regular basis as President, until the president day. Indeed, the President’s adversity to Fusion has been repeatedly expressed by his spokesperson and has become an element of his political agenda.”
Fusion also alluded to financial donations McFadden made to the Trump campaign. Federal Election Commission records show a total of $1,000 McFadden gave to Trump’s presidential bid last October.
Fusion’s letter to McFadden was not immediately placed in the court’s public files, but McFadden released it Monday and said he “would welcome briefing regarding potential recusal.” He said if Fusion or any other party wants him to recuse it should file a motion to that effect by next Monday.
Trump nominated McFadden, a former partner at Baker & McKenzie, to the U.S. District Court in Washington last June. He was confirmed in October and serves as one of three Trump-appointed judges on the district court in the nation’s capital.
The dossier, a compilation of intelligence reports about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, was assembled by British intelligence operative Christopher Steele at the request of Fusion GPS during the 2016. Some of Steele’s initial research was paid for by a conservative news outlet, the Washington Free Beacon. Fusion and Steele continued on the project with funding from lawyers working for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The compendium became the focus of attention from the FBI last year. In recent months, Republicans have grown convinced that the FBI used the dossier’s accurate, inaccurate, unverified, and, in some instances, salacious, claims to seek surveillance warrants and take other investigative steps that led to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
While the dossier has spawned a morass of lawsuits in Washington, Miami, New York and London, the litigation before McFadden is an offshoot of a case pending in federal court in Miami where a Russian internet entrepreneur mentioned in the dossier is suing BuzzFeed over its publication of the documents.
The Russian businessman, Aleksej Gubarev, has subpoenaed Fusion GPS for records and testimony related to the dossier. Fusion, which is based in Washington, chose to move in federal court in D.C. to quash the subpoena.
Fusion’s letter doesn’t allege that McFadden or Baker & McKenzie worked for Gubarev, but says they did represent a company called VimpelCom in a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigation. That firm is controlled by Mikhail Fridman, who is suing Fusion GPS and one of its co-founders, Glenn Simpson, for libel stemming from production and dissemination of the dossier. That suit, separate from the Florida one, is pending before U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon in Washington. Leon was appointed by former President George W. Bush.
The dossier-related subpoena dispute McFadden is being pressured to recuse from was originally before a judge appointed by President Barack Obama, Tanya Chutkan. She recused from the case in December without public explanation and the matter was randomly reassigned to McFadden.