On Jan. 19, the administration of special counsel Robert Mueller issued a statement disputing claims made by a Buzzfeed News article. The Buzzfeed News team reported that President Trump had ordered his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress while under oath.
The response from Mueller’s counsel came less than 24 hours after the Buzzfeed reporting, and although it was brief and did not address specifics, it implied that the Buzzfeed News report did not provide an accurate description of the experience of the special counsel in dealing with Michael Cohen.
Justice Department representative Peter Carr directly addressed the inaccuracy of the article, saying “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.”
The Buzzfeed News report cited several law enforcement personnel with an alleged direct knowledge of the Trump Tower Moscow investigation. It catalysed discussions regarding the legal and political consequences of the supposed interaction between Trump and Cohen. It also led a series of Democratic House committee chairmen to issue statements regarding their intent to investigate the alleged instructions given to Cohen by President Trump. Representative Adam Schiff of California, who is the House committee chairman for intelligence, stated Friday that “these allegations may prove unfounded, but, if true, they would constitute both the subornation of perjury as well as obstruction of justice.”
Despite the fact that President Trump thanked the Justice Department for issuing the response and slammed Buzzfeed as a “disgrace to the country,” and a “disgrace to journalism,” Buzzfeed’s editor-in-chief Ben Smith agreed to speak with NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Smith said that he backs the integrity of his reporters, adding that they based the allegations on information received from “federal law enforcement officials involved in the investigation” who were “well-placed to know what’s going on inside it.” He continued to say that he had difficulty in responding to the statement issued by Mueller’s special counsel as it was not a “full-throated denial” of the allegations, and added that he would like to know what specific concerns the counsel has regarding the accuracy of the article.
The rarity of statements issued by the Justice Department, even in controversial situations, sparked an uproar as the statement was released; Mueller has been notoriously quiet in responding to public and journalistic commentary on his proceedings. The last response issued by Mueller’s special counsel arrived in 2017, in which they disputed claims that they had obtained evidence unethically.
Michael Cohen pled guilty in 2017 on one act of lying to Congress regarding the time frame of President Trump’s negotiations with Russian officials about building a Trump Tower in Moscow. He initially claimed that these negotiations had ceased in January of 2016, but later stated that they went on well into June, which was during the presidential campaign. The article from Buzzfeed stated that President Trump had specifically ordered Cohen to lie about the timeline in order to lessen his perceived involvement with Russia during the campaign.
Anthony Cormier, a reporter associated with Buzzfeed News, told NPR last week that “This is a crime if it’s true, and our reporting suggests that it is.”