A Russian-born British scholar is suing an alleged FBI informant and four news outlets for defamation for allegedly linking her to Russian efforts to influence President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign.
Svetlana Lokhova filed suit Thursday in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, seeking more than $25 million in damages from longtime University of Cambridge academic Stefan Halper as well as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post and MSNBC.
Lokhova alleges that Halper and the news outlets conspired to spread a false narrative that she approached then-Defense Intelligence Agency director Michael Flynn on behalf of Russian intelligence at a seminar dinner in England in 2014 and that Flynn and Lokhova had an intimate relationship.
Over time, as public attention focused on links between the Trump campaign and Russia — and Flynn was fired as national security adviser by Trump in February 2017, individuals hostile to Trump and Flynn seized on the alleged connection to Lokhova as evidence that Flynn had been compromised by Russia, the suit says.
The suit, filed for Lokhova by Charlottesville, Virginia-based attorney Steven Biss, features some unusually colorful language for a federal court pleading.
“Stefan Halper is a ratf----- and a spy, who embroiled an innocent woman in a conspiracy to undo the 2016 Presidential election and topple the President of the United States of America,” the 66-page complaint says.
In the suit, Lokhova — a historian and author who focuses on the history of intelligence work — denies any improper relationship with Flynn and says she never served in any capacity for Russian intelligence services.
The suit complains about an array of news articles and reports, including some published by British newspapers such as the Financial Times, The Times of London and The Guardian, but those papers were not named as defendants. Some outlets, like the New York Times and MSNBC, were named as defendants despite never publishing any report mentioning Lokhova.
The allegations against MSNBC appear not to stem from any published story or video segment, but from tweets by analyst Malcolm Nance and a retweet by host Joy Reid, as well as contacts Lokhova had with an NBC News producer.
Press accounts have put Halper at the center of an FBI-led, covert operation to seek information on links between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos says Halper offered him $3,000 to write an academic paper about a gas field in the Mediterranean and conducted an unusual meeting with him at a London bar in September 2016, where an unidentified female companion of Halper was “very flirty” and attempted to “seduce” him. Papadopoulos has said he believes the woman was a CIA operative or agent, possibly also with ties to Turkish intelligence.
Halper did not immediately answer an email early Friday seeking comment on the new lawsuit. It’s possible the suit could embroil the U.S. government, if Halper contends he’s being sued over actions he took at the request of U.S. officials.
Representatives of the Post, the Journal and NBC did not immediately respond to requests early Friday for comment on the litigation. A Times spokesperson declined comment.
Lokhova’s attorney, Biss, has grabbed headlines over the past year for a series of aggressive and unusual defamation lawsuits seeking eye-popping sums from media organizations and others.
In March, Biss filed a $250 million-plus libel suit on behalf of Rep. Devin Nunes (D-Calif.) against Twitter and political operative Liz Mair over their roles in Twitter accounts that taunted Nunes, including feeds titled Devin Nunes’ Mom and Devin Nunes’ Cow.
The following month, Biss filed another suit for Nunes, seeking $150 million from the newspaper chain McClatchy over a Fresno Bee report about an alleged cocaine-fueled sex party held at a Napa Calley winery co-owned by Nunes.
And last August, Biss filed a $55 million suit against National Public Radio, correspondent David Folkenflik and NPR editors over its reports linking Dallas investment adviser Ed Butowsky to efforts to advance conspiracy theories about the death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.
All the cases remain pending.
Disclosure: Gerstein is a contributor to NBC News and MSNBC.