In a rare move, a spokesman from special counsel Robert Mueller’s office is disputing an explosive BuzzFeed report that President Trump ordered his former lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about details surrounding the building of a Trump Tower in Moscow
“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," Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, said in the statement.
In response, Ben Smith, BuzzFeed’s editor-in-chief, said the news organization stood by the reporting of Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier.
Trump weighed in on the rare rebuke from the special counsel’s office Friday night on Twitter, where the president wrote, “A very sad day for journalism, but a great day for our country!”
The explosive report cites two unnamed federal law enforcement sources, and alleges Trump directed Cohen to testify to Congress that negotiations over the Moscow projected ended months earlier then they actually did, in an attempt to obscure Trump’s involvement.
“I am rock solid. My sourcing on this goes beyond the two on the record. It’s 100 percent,” Cormier, a BuzzFeed investigative reporter, told CNN Friday morning. Cormier said his law enforcement sources were investigating Trump’s Moscow tower deal prior to Robert Mueller being named as special counsel. "We were able to gather information from individuals who know this happened.”
Cohen, who refused to comment to BuzzFeed, pleaded guilty in November to lying under oath to Congress about the details of Trump’s project in Moscow, admitting he and Trump had spoken more extensively about the project during the 2016 election than he had admitted to lawmakers. Cohen said he lied out of a sense of loyalty and obligation to Trump.
Rudy Giuliani, the president’s attorney, issued a categorical denial in response to BuzzFeed’s report.
“Any suggestion — from any source — that the president counseled Michael Cohen to lie is categorically false,” Giuliani said in a statement.
Here’s what you need to know:
"Inside the Justice Department, the statement was viewed as a huge step, and one that would have been taken only if the special counsel’s office viewed the story as almost entirely incorrect. The special counsel’s office seemed to be disputing every aspect of the story that addressed comments or evidence given to its investigators.
“The New York Times has not independently confirmed the BuzzFeed report. One person familiar with Mr. Cohen’s testimony to the special counsel’s prosecutors said that Mr. Cohen did not state that the president had pressured him to lie to Congress.”
After the special counsel’s office called out the accuracy of BuzzFeed’s report Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Ronan Farrow shared on Twitter that he has a source that repeatedly disputed the idea that Trump issued direct orders to Cohen.
During an appearance on Fox News, White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley refused to explicitly deny BuzzFeed’s report that Trump ordered Cohen to lie to Congress about details surrounding a proposed Moscow tower.
“This is absolutely ludicrous that we are giving any type of prudence or credibility to a news outlet like BuzzFeed,” Gidley said, making air quotes as he referred to BuzzFeed as a news outlet. “There is nothing in that piece that can be corroborated.”
“You’re saying the president did not tell Michael Cohen to do that?” Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer asked.
“I’m telling you right now, this is why the president refuses to give any credence or credibility to news outlets because they have no ability to corroborate anything they’re putting out there,” Gidley responded. “Instead, they’re just using innuendo, shady sources.”
“Well, that was not a denial of my question,” Hemmer noted.
“No, but the premise is ridiculous,” Hogan shot back, repeating comments made by the president and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, that Cohen is a liar, despite the fact that BuzzFeed said Cohen wasn’t a source for their story.
In the same tweet Trump called Cohen a liar, the president also mentioned Cohen’s father-in-law, despite the fact that there is no public indication he is or was the subject of any criminal inquiry. ABC News reported that Cohen was reconsidering plans to give testimony before Congress next month because of Trump’s repeated attacks on his family.
“It’s an absolutely shocking violation of norms for the chief executive to suggest a retaliatory investigation against the relative of a witness against him,” Kenneth White, a former federal prosecutor and criminal defense attorney, told ABC News after Trump brought up Cohen’s father-in-law during a Fox News interview last week. “This is Nixonian ‘enemy list’ stuff, but instead of the public finding out about it through secret tapes and insiders, the president is saying it openly on TV."
CNN host and Inquirer columnist Michael Smerconish said if BuzzFeed’s report is accurate, Trump committed a “serious crime” by ordering Cohen to lie to Congress.
“There’s no other interpretation here, except that the president would have committed a crime, and a serious crime, if this report is accurate,” Smerconish said on CNN’s New Day Friday morning.
Leaders of both the House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee say they plan to investigate whether Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress.
“We know that the President has engaged in a long pattern of obstruction. Directing a subordinate to lie to Congress is a federal crime,” wrote Rep. Jerry Nadler (D., N.Y.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
“The allegation that the President of the United States may have suborned perjury before our committee in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date," wrote Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D., Texas):
“Congress should immediately investigate Michael Cohen’s claim, based on this reporting, that the President directed him to lie to Congress during its Russia investigation. Such an instruction would amount to obstruction of justice.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee:
“The allegation that the President of the United States may have suborned perjury before our committee in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date. We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true."
Eric Holder, former attorney general: