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Judge dismisses defamation suit over the salacious 2016 Trump dossier.

The business headquarters of Christopher Steele, Leon Neal/Getty

On Tuesday, DC Superior Court Judge Anthony C. Epstein dismissed a suit brought against former British spy Christopher Steele over claims made in his controversial 2016 dossier on Russian connections to President Donald Trump. The suit had been brought by three Russian billionaires: Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven, and German Khan. All three own a stake in the Alfa bank. The Russian businessmen disputed the claim that they were in any way involved with Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Judge Epstein’s dismissal was based that the businessmen were public figures, which means the suit had to meet the high threshold of proving that Steele made false claims with malicious intent, rather than just negligently (the threshold for ordinary citizens). The ruling has a wider political significance because while the judge by no means affirmed the factuality of the Steele Dossier he did acknowledge its public interest value. “The Steele dossier generated so much interest and attention in the US precisely because its contents relate to active public debates here,” Judge Epstein noted. This decision will make it harder for others to pursue legal cases against Steele in the United State. At least one libel case against Steele is pending London, England, where libel laws are stricter and make fewer allowances for public interest.

Lawyers for the Russian billionaires said they would pursue an appeal.