In a rare statement from the special counsel’s office, Robert Mueller denied a BuzzFeed report that alleged Donald Trump told attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.
“President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter,” the piece, posted late Thursday night, alleged.
“Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. ‘Make it happen,’ the sources said Trump told Cohen.”
The piece claimed Cohen had told the special counsel that Trump had encouraged the lying in order to make it seem like the negotiations on the project in Moscow had ended much earlier than they had in order to help his chances in the election.
“The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents,” the article alleged.
“Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.”
That office, unfortunately, didn’t quite sign off on the version of events described by BuzzFeed reporters Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier.
“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate,” a statement from Peter Carr, Mueller’s spokesman, read.
Any statement from the special counsel’s office is an unusual occurrence indeed, although one assumes part of the reason behind it was the fact that the BuzzFeed report had been chum in the congressional impeachment waters.
CNN reported that “following the story’s publication late Thursday night, Democratic members of Congress began pointing to the report as grounds for the President’s impeachment. The clamor grew throughout the day and into Friday night.”
It wasn’t just Congress. According to The Daily Caller, the words “impeach,” “impeachment” and “impeachable” were used 179 times on CNN and MSNBC.
And sometimes, as in this clip from CNN, you could see congressional Democrats and the media working in tandem:
.@wolfblitzer: If Mueller has evidence confirming Buzzfeed’s report, would you and House Democrats begin impeachment proceedings?
— The Situation Room (@CNNSitRoom) January 18, 2019
For its part, BuzzFeed stands by the story and it wants the special counsel to clarify what part of its reporting was wrong.
In response to the statement tonight from the Special Counsel’s spokesman: We stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it, and we urge the Special Counsel to make clear what he’s disputing.
— Ben Smith (@BuzzFeedBen) January 19, 2019
“We spoke to federal law enforcement officials involved in the investigation … who told us the president directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress,” BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
If this were an issue of semantics, it’s unlikely that the special counsel is going to correct BuzzFeed’s reporting — again, even a statement this brief is an unusual thing from the special counsel.
It’s also worth noting the unlikelihood that this was solely due to semantics; given the rarity of such statements, why would the special counsel be disputing the article if it were just a matter of details?
I suppose we’ll know just how right or wrong Leopold and Cormier were when the special counsel’s report is finally released and we can see exactly what Cohen told investigators. However, given the wording of the statement from Mueller’s office and the rarity of such declarations, I wouldn’t be holding my breath on very much of this article being factual.
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