In a rare public statement out of the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday evening, spokeperson Peter Carr said, “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.”
While the statement does not cite any specific errors, the central—and certainly the most explosive—claim of the reporting was that Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen was told by the president to lie to Congress regarding business dealings in Moscow during the 2016 campaign.
In response, journalist Glenn Greenwald—who earlier in the day had urged at least some level of skepticism about the reporting given that it was based largely on the claims of anonymous law enforcement sources—tweeted:
While the story sparked immediate and widespread calls for impeachment proceedings to begin (see below), it turns out that the “if true” caveat was very much needed as news outlets and the American people grappled with the implications of Buzzfeed‘s reporting over the last 24 hours.
Greenwald also noted the hysteria the original story had stirred and wondered who, if anyone, would be held to account:
In the wake of a bombshell report late Thursday that President Donald Trump personally ordered his former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations with Russia to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, Democratic lawmakers, legal experts, and progressive commentators were quick to stress the severity of the allegation and argue that—if the reporting is accurate—impeachment proceedings should begin.
“There’s more than enough on the record now to establish the case for impeachment. The only question is whether Congress will do what’s right.”
—David Roberts, Vox
“If the Buzzfeed story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached,” Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) declared on Twitter in response to the explosive report, which cited two anonymous law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.
According to Buzzfeed, Cohen told special counsel Robert Mueller that “after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie—by claiming that negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did—in order to obscure Trump’s involvement” in talks to construct a Trump Tower in Moscow.
“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,” Buzzfeed reported. “On the campaign trail, Trump vehemently denied having any business interests in Russia. But behind the scenes, he was pushing the Moscow project, which he hoped could bring his company profits in excess of $300 million.”
“Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying about the deal in testimony and in a two-page statement to the Senate and House Intelligence committees,” Buzzfeed noted. “Mueller noted that Cohen’s false claim that the project ended in January 2016 was an attempt to ‘minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1’—widely understood to be Trump—’in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.'”
Analysts immediately pointed out that instructing witnesses to commit perjury—which legal experts say constitutes obstruction of justice—was part of the articles of impeachment against former Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
“Let’s be clear,” journalist Mehdi Hasan wrote for The Intercept on Friday morning: “This is obstruction of justice, plain and simple. If this report from BuzzFeed News is correct, the president has committed a crime — obstruction of justice is prohibited by a number of federal criminal laws, including obstruction of judicial proceedings (18 U.S.C. 1503) and witness tampering (18 U.S.C. 1512) — and should therefore be impeached and indicted.”
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