A British former spy said he handed a copy of a dossier about alleged links between Donald Trump and Russia to a UK national security official days after the 2016 US election because intelligence suggested a risk to UK national security.
Christopher Steele told Mr Justice Warby that information he had gathered suggested Mr Trump and his administration might pose a “serious risk” in relation to “the receipt of sensitive intelligence” involving Russia from British “sources and operations”.
Mr Steele said the intelligence in the dossier had “important implications” for UK national security and told the judge how he considered himself “duty-bound” to provide it to the “appropriate” UK national security authorities.
He said he also shared the dossier, or memoranda, with the “US Government/intelligence” community at an “appropriate level”.
Mr Steele was giving evidence at a High Court trial in London on Wednesday after being sued for libel by a Russian businessman named in the dossier.
Aleksej Gubarev, who runs an IT infrastructure business, took legal action after BuzzFeed published the dossier in January 2017, the month Mr Trump was inaugurated.
He says he has been defamed by Mr Steele and Orbis Business Intelligence, a London-based corporate intelligence consultancy co-founded by Mr Steele, and wants “very substantial” damages.
Orbis and Mr Steele are fighting the claim and deny defamation.
Mr Steele told the judge, in a written witness statement, how in the summer of 2016 a Washington DC “corporate intelligence company” engaged Orbis to collect intelligence from Russian sources concerning Russian interference in the 2016 US elections and any links between Mr Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia.
He said the research was funded by “supporters or associates” of the US Democratic Party, Orbis was paid a £20,000 a month retainer, he “personally” conducted or supervised all of the work, and produced a dossier, or memoranda.
Mr Steele said he contacted a UK Government national security official on November 13 2016, less than a week after Mr Trump was elected President.
“The intelligence recorded in the pre-election memoranda had important potential national security implications for the UK, as well as the US,” he said.
“The intelligence in the pre-election memoranda suggested that Donald Trump and his administration might pose a serious risk to UK national security in relation to the receipt of sensitive intelligence from British sources and operations, especially sources/operations in or in relation to Russia.”
He added: “Since the intelligence I had gathered … had important implications for UK national security following Donald Trump’s election as President, I considered myself duty-bound to provide it to the appropriate national security authorities in the UK.”
Lawyers representing Mr Gubarev have said there is no suggestion the allegations against Mr Gubarev and Webzilla were true.
They say BuzzFeed apologised and redacted the names of Mr Gubarev and Webzilla from its website.
Lawyers said Mr Gubarev was not suggesting Orbis and Mr Steele had been “malicious”.
The central question is whether Orbis and Mr Steele were “responsible in law” for the publication of the dossier by BuzzFeed, they say.
Mr Gubarev’s case is that Orbis and Mr Steele were responsible
Orbis and Mr Steele disagree and say the claim should be dismissed.
Mr Steele said he had provided general “off-the-record” briefings to a number of “trusted” American reporters – on the instructions of the Washington DC company which engaged Orbis.
But he said he never foresaw that any media organisation would obtain a copy of the dossier, and publish it.
He said he thought that BuzzFeed’s publication to the “world at large” had been “reckless” and “irresponsible” and endangered the “lives and livelihoods” of his “sources”.
Mr Steele said his reaction to the publication had been “shock and horror” and he had been concerned that his colleagues and family members might be “targets of retribution”.