Judge dismisses “frivolous” defamation lawsuit against Stefan Halper in Trump-Russia case

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A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Trump-Russia FBI spy Stefan Halper, while also sanctioning plaintiff Svetlana Lokhova and her attorney for “their continuing to bring frivolous litigation against Halper.”

The final ruling, filed July 9 in Virginia by U.S. District Court Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, came in the second of two lawsuits filed by Ms. Lokhova. She is a Russia-born, British citizen-scholar wrongly linked by press reports in 2017-18 to some type of inappropriate contact with retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

Her first lawsuit, brought by lawyer Steven S.  Biss, alleged defamation by Mr. Halper and news media outlets. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th District agreed with Judge Brinkema’s 2020 decision and dismissed the case. The judges ruled that some news stories were beyond the one-year statute of limitations, and others did not rise to defamation or prove that Mr. Halper was the reporters’ source.

Mr. Biss filed the second suit in December, alleging that Mr. Halper’s lawyers defamed Ms. Lokhova by writing cease-and-decease letters to her prospective publishers, Simon & Schuster and Post Hill Press LLC. The letters ended the book deal.

Mr. Halper said her proposed book, “The Spider: Stefan A. Halper and the Dark Web of a Coup,” and its public marketing material, defamed him.

“Simon & Schuster’s publication of such malicious defamation about Professor Halper has and will continue to damage …. his reputation in this country and abroad,” his attorneys wrote to the publisher in March 2020. “These damages are not limited to financial injuries. The false statements of Ms. Lokhova have been used to foment hatred and threats against the Professor and his family, including death threats.”

In dismissing the second Lokhova complaint, Judge Brinkema said such demand letters carry automatic immunity from lawsuits because they are protected by absolute litigation privilege.

Judge Brinkema, a Clinton appointee, called the lawsuit “groundless.” She imposed sanctions of $33,875 for Mr. Halper’s legal costs, to be split equally by Mr. Biss and Ms. Lokhova.

The Lokhova storyline began in 2017. She was leading a quiet life in London as a married researcher when news media stories suddenly popped up implying that Mr. Flynn and she had done something inappropriate at a 2014 dinner at Cambridge University in England. 

Mr. Flynn, then head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was a guest of honor at a dinner attended by scholars, including Ms. Lokhova, who was researching Soviet espionage.

Ms. Lokhova filed a defamation lawsuit in Virginia against the news media and Mr. Halper, a longtime D.C. national security figure and Cambridge professor. Defendants included the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Halper was the FBI’s most famous Trump-Russia informant as the bureau probed whether the Trump campaign and Kremlin conspired to interfere in the 2016 election. Mr. Halper met with two Trump campaign volunteers, Carter Page and George Papadopoulos. The recorded conversations did not implicate them in any Kremlin conspiracy.

Ms. Lokhova alleged in court documents that Mr. Halper was the source of the Flynn rumor. Mr. Biss cited a newly unearthed FBI document, discovered by a U.S. attorney assigned to review the Flynn prosecution of lying to the FBI while serving briefly as President Trump’s national security adviser.

The Jan. 4, 2017 redacted case-closing file told of an FBI informant who provided agents with information about Mr. Flynn and a third person. The informant said that after an event, Mr. Flynn and the person got into a cab and took a train from Cambridge.

Mr. Biss said the informant was Mr. Halper and the other person was his client, Ms. Lokhova.

The document cleared Mr. Flynn of having any improper foreign contacts, and said the FBI found nothing derogatory about the person identified by Mr. Biss as his client. FBI special agent William J. Barnett, who wrote the case-closure document, said he found the Flynn Cambridge story “not plausible.”

After seeing herself wrongly portrayed in the media as a Russian agent in a Flynn conspiracy, Ms. Lokhova viewed the FBI document as an exoneration. She says she never got into a cab with Mr. Flynn, who left with his embassy handlers.

No evidence has ever materialized that she had done anything wrong and she never saw Mr. Flynn again after the Cambridge dinner.

Judge Brinkema, and later an appeals court, dismissed the first lawsuit. The judge said the complaint failed to show Mr. Halper was the news media’s source.

The judge chastised Mr. Biss for rough language in his filings, but did not impose sanctions at that time.

“The record is clear that Biss filed an excessively long complaint and amended complaint on Lokhova‘s behalf directing unprofessional ad hominem attacks at Halper and others,” Judge Brinkema wrote. “For example, the complaint calls Halper a ‘ratf’**er,’ ….. and refers to the media defendants as ‘’stooges,’ …. Such language adds nothing but unnecessary heat to this litigation.”

Mr. Halper has declined to comment through an attorney as to whether he supplied the FBI with information on Ms. Lokhova.

His attorney did not respond to a message seeking comment on the case’s July 9 dismissal.

Mr. Biss did not respond to a message seeking comment. He filed a notice that he plans to appeal the sanctions ruling.

Ms. Lokhova tweeted on July 7, “5 years ago, I was framed by dirty operatives in order to justify surveillance and investigation of president’s National Security Advisor ……But the perpetrators were never held to account.”

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