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Robert Mueller Sued for Defamation Over Footnote That Hinted at Infamous Golden Shower Footage

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Former special counsel Robert Mueller is being sued for defamation by a businessman who claims that his “good name and favorable business reputation were shattered” after he was falsely identified as a “Russian businessman” in a footnote to the Mueller Report.

The plaintiff, Giorgi Rtskhiladze, is actually a U.S. citizen who was born in the Republic of Georgia and emigrated to America in 1991.

Rtskhiladze previously worked with the Trump Organization on various ventures after meeting with Michael Cohen in 2010. Initially, there were efforts made to secure a Trump Tower location in Batumi, Georgia but those plans fell by the wayside. According to the lawsuit, Rtskhiladze also worked with Cohen on other potential Trump-branded licensing projects in other former Soviet countries that also fell through “without formal agreements being executed.”

Those business meetings, however, were not what caught Mueller’s attention. Rather, it was a series of text messages Rtskhiladze exchanged with Cohen days before the 2016 general election.

“In late October 2016, [Rtskhiladze] received a telephone call at his home in Connecticut from a longtime friend,” the lawsuit notes. “During that conversation, the friend told plaintiff that he had recently attended a dinner party in Moscow at which he overheard a person at the next table—whom he did not know—bragging about some tapes related to a trip by Mr. [Donald] Trump to Moscow. The friend said he was passing along the information because he knew plaintiff had an ongoing business relationship with the Trump Organization about building a Trump Tower in Georgia. This telephone conversation was the sole basis for an exchange of texts between plaintiff and Mr. Cohen on October 30, 2016.”

The exchange between Rtskhiladze and Cohen went as follows:

Rtskhiladze: “Stopped flow of some tapes from Russia but not sure if there’s anything else. Just so u know …”
Cohen: “Tapes of what?”
Rtskhiladze: “Not sure of the content but person in Moscow was bragging had tapes from Russia trip. Will try to dial you tomorrow but wanted to be aware. I’m sure it’s not a big deal but there are lots of stupid people.”
Cohen: “You have no idea”
Rtskhiladze: “I do trust me.”

For those unfamiliar with the underlying issue, the unstated subtext of the conversation is that the alleged tapes in question related to unverified and salacious allegations about Trump involving a watersports incident that allegedly occurred in Moscow hotel several years ago.

Nearly years passed before Rtskhiladze was eventually questioned by federal investigators over his text conversation with Cohen. Asserting that he “cooperated fully” with the inquiry and spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees” responding to a subpoena request, the lawsuit goes on to note that he testified before a grand jury as well as “before the House Intelligence Committee and answered a long list of questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee, incurring additional legal fees of more than $100,000.”

After all that, the extent of Rtskhiladze’s role in the long-and-winding Mueller affair was detailed in the Mueller Report’s Footnote 112.

That footnote reads, in relevant part:

[James] Comey’s briefing included the Steele reporting’s unverified allegation that the Russians had compromising tapes of the President involving conduct when he was a private citizen in a 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant. During the 2016 presidential campaign, a similar claim may have reached candidate Trump. On October 30, 2016, Michael Cohen received a text from Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze that said, “Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there’s anything else. Just so you know … .” 10/30/16 Text Message, Rtskhiladze to Cohen. Rtskhiladze has said “tapes” referred to compromising tapes of Trump rumored to be held by persons associated with the Russian real estate conglomerate Crocus Group, which had helped host the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Russia. Rtskhiladze 4/4/18 302, at 12. Cohen said he spoke to Trump about the issue after receiving the texts from Rtskhiladze. Cohen 9/12/18 302, at 13. Rtskhiladze said he was told the tapes were fake, but he did not communicate that to Cohen. Rtskhiladze 5/10/18, at 7.

Rtskhiladze now says Mueller and the Department of Justice (DOJ), which is named as a co-defendant, defamed him via the above footnote in various ways.

For one, Rtskhiladze is not, as the footnote claims, a “Russian businessman,” which the lawsuit’s summary alleges has “nefarious” implications.

And, according to the filing, the special counsel’s thorough investigation was well-apprised that Rtskhiladze was not Russian in any sense at all.

The filing also alleges that the footnote contains several additional insinuations which were then picked up on by various media outlets and personalities–including ABC News and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.

“The omission of ‘some’ in the quoted text is significant,” the lawsuit notes. “‘Stopped the flow of tapes’ suggests familiarity with their content while ‘stopped flow of some tapes’ indicates a lack of familiarity with their content.”

“Immediately following the release of the Mueller Report, the media in the United States and around the world took the bait, tied plaintiff to the Steel [sic] Dossier, and proceeded to broadcast false, reckless, and defamatory statements about him,” the filing continues. “These reports uniformly asserted that plaintiff was a ‘Russian businessman’ engaged in clandestine actions to support the Russian Government’s agenda of interfering in the 2016 United States election to help Candidate Trump. Footnote 112 and the subsequent feeding frenzy in the media delivered a catastrophic blow to plaintiff’s well-earned reputation as an honest Georgia-American businessman.”

“Every major and many minor media outlets around the world released similar articles based on the misleading footnote with devastating results for plaintiff personally, for his business reputation, and for his family,” the lawsuit goes on. “And, of course, once the information about such a high-profile investigation is accessible on the internet the damage is done—the bell cannot be un-rung. The damage, however, can be mitigated by appropriate action by the Department of Justice to redact references to plaintiff in Footnote 112.”

The filing also accuses Mueller and his deputies at DOJ of intentionally lying about Rtskhiladze’s knowledge of the underlying “pee tape” controversy in at least two regards. First, the plaintiff claims he was completely unaware of that narrative at the time of his discussion. In fact, he says he couldn’t possibly have been aware of said narrative because it wasn’t public knowledge until several months later.

“Given the timing of these events, it is beyond credulity to suggest—as Footnote 112 does—that plaintiff was referring to the tapes mentioned in the Steele Dossier,” the lawsuit says. “The Steel [sic] Dossier did not become public until January 10, 2017 when it was published by BuzzFeed.”

Additionally, Rtskhiladze claims that Mueller “speciously” suggested he “knew the purported tapes were fake but failed to tell Mr. Cohen.”

“Wrongfully tying plaintiff to the Steele Dossier, falsely identifying him as a ‘Russian businessman,’ intentionally splicing and altering the text message, and then speciously declaring that plaintiff nefariously withheld information that the tapes were fake from Mr. Cohen has destroyed plaintiff’s ability to continue his career,” the lawsuit claims.

Rtskhiladze is seeking $100 million in damages and an injunction that would force DOJ to hastily remove all future references to him in the Mueller Report.

Read the full filing below:

Rtskhiladze v Mueller Complaint by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]

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