In a dramatic departure from its press-shy tendencies, special counsel Robert Mueller’s office issued a statement Friday evening disputing the blockbuster Buzzfeed report claiming that President Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.
The unusual statement came almost 24 hours after the Buzzfeed report was published. It alleged that Cohen lied to Congress about the timing of negotiations over a Trump Tower Moscow deal at the specific direction of Trump. The Buzzfeed report also alleged that there were witnesses and documentary evidence in support of the claims, in addition to Cohen’s own testimony.
Special counsel spokesperson Peter Carr’s statement cast much of it into doubt.
“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,” Carr wrote.
The explosive Buzzfeed report set Washington reeling Thursday evening, and elicited a cascade of reactions Friday from public officials, including renewed calls for impeachment. It suggested that Mueller’s potential obstruction of justice case against the president was farther-reaching than previously known. It seemed to foreshadow a constitutional showdown between the president and the Congress, with the president accused of directly thwarting a congressional investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
The Mueller team’s statement did not specify which elements of the Buzzfeed report were “not accurate.” But in broadly disputing the testimonial and documentary evidence Buzzfeed cited and the way they were was characterized, the Mueller team cast doubt not just on on the specifics of the story but on its premise.
The Buzzfeed report cited multiple unnamed sources, and the two reporters on the story made TV appearances Friday buttressing its claims. Buzzfeed reporter Anthony Cormier told CNN that the reporting was “rock solid” and that “this 100 percent happened.”
The heart of the Buzzfeed report was that Trump allegedly directed Cohen, his longtime attorney, to lie to Congress about the timing of negotiations for a Trump Tower Moscow. “It is the first known example of Trump explicitly telling a subordinate to lie directly about his own dealings with Russia,” Buzzfeed reported.
The key paragraph in the story, which the special counsel’s statement seems directed at, alleges specifically what the special counsel’s office knows and how it learned it:
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. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.
Cohen has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress both in a written statement and in closed door testimony about the Moscow deal negotiations. He is cooperating with multiple criminal probes, including Muellers, that could implicate the president.
The Buzzfeed report didn’t pinpoint when or in what manner Trump allegedly directed Cohen to lie. It said it occurred “after the election.” Cohen’s first lie came in a written statement to Congress in August 2017 and culminated with his false testimony in October 2017.
Cohen and his attorney declined to comment on the Buzzfeed report.