Michael Cohen, the longtime personal attorney for President Donald Trump, has dropped his defamation lawsuits against BuzzFeed and the investigative firm Fusion GPS over a dossier of information about contacts between Trump and Russia.
Cohen used a pair of court filings late Wednesday to end the lawsuits he filed in January, which claimed the dossier contained a series of false assertions about him. His decision to abandon the suits in their early stages came as he faces a criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in New York over his private financial and business dealings. By dropping the cases, he won't have to answer detailed questions in the litigation over his own activities.
The case against Fusion GPS, which compiled the dossier, and its co-founder Glenn Simpson was filed in federal court in New York. Cohen had sued BuzzFeed, which published the dossier in its entirety, in state court in New York.
Cohen's dismissal notices offered no explanation for why he was dropping the cases, as reported earlier by Politico.
"The decision to voluntarily discontinue these cases was a difficult one," Cohen's lawyer, David Schwartz, said by email. "We believe the defendants defamed by 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."
Fusion GPS hired a former British spy, Christopher Steele, to compile the dossier, which includes salacious allegations about Trump's activities in Russia. Steele also provided the dossier to the FBI, which is working with Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Cohen has denied the dossier's claims that he played a "key role" in a "secret Trump campaign/Kremlin relationship" and that he met a "Kremlin insider" in Prague in August 2016. Cohen says he's never been to Prague.
"If there's one thing Democrats and Republicans agree on today, it's that the dossier was an important part of the government's investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia," BuzzFeed said in a written statement. "Its interest to the public is, and always has been, obvious. Today's news suggests that Donald Trump's personal lawyer no longer thinks an attack on the free press is worth his time."
Fusion GPS released a statement that said, "We welcome, though are not surprised, that Michael Cohen opted to withdraw this meritless complaint rather than 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."
FBI agents raided Cohen's home, office and hotel room on April 9, seizing a trove of evidence as federal prosecutors unravel his financial activities and his role in helping Trump conceal embarrassing episodes in Trump's private life that threatened his candidacy in 2016. They include a $130,000 payment Cohen made to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who claimed to have had sex with Trump in 2006, and another payment to a former Playboy model.
The Cohen decision to drop the cases came on the same day that the former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, settled a lawsuit against the owner of the National Enquirer. It bought the rights to her story that she had an affair with Trump more than a decade ago. McDougal's ownership of the story will be restored as part of the agreement with American Media Inc.
"I am pleased to have reached a settlement with AMI on my own terms, which restores to me the rights to my life story and frees me from this contract that I was misled into signing nearly two years ago," McDougal said in a statement.
'Catch and Kill'
McDougal attorney Peter Stris told MSNBC on Thursday that she was happy to be freed from the "catch and kill" deal with the Enquirer, which never printed her story. In an interview with CNN last month, McDougal said she began a 10-month affair with Trump in 2006, and she took money from AMI to stay silent before the election.
"The way I put it is that she is free," Stris said Thursday. "This has never been about her wanting to make this a crusade."
He said her legal team was unsure of Cohen's exact involvement in the matter.
Cohen emerged as a figure of interest to congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the 2016 election. Cohen testified behind closed doors to the House Intelligence Committee on Oct. 24 and to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Oct. 25.
He said he told the panels that he never engaged with, was paid by or communicated with anyone representing the Russian government, or anyone else, about hacking or interfering with the U.S. election, hacking the Democratic Party or creating fake news stories to assist the Trump campaign or to damage the Hillary Clinton campaign.