In an explosive story published last Thursday, Buzzfeed News alleged that President Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
Citing “two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter,” reporters Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier claimed that while then-candidate Trump told the public that he had no business dealings with Russia, he received “regular” and “detailed” updates about the Moscow development from Cohen.
The reporting also claimed that when Cohen set up a plan for Trump to visit Russia and meet President Vladimir Putin to finalize negotiations during the presidential campaign, Trump told him to “make it happen.”
In response to the bombshell story, a number of Democratic lawmakers called for further investigations into the allegation that Trump instructed Cohen to lie under oath when he testified before the House Intelligence Committee.
If proven to be true, Trump would be guilty of suborning perjury, which would be the second alleged crime to taint the president who has already been accused of violating campaign finance laws by federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York.
If the @BuzzFeed story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached.
— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) January 18, 2019
In that case, Trump “must resign or be impeached,” Democratic Representative Joaquin Castro tweeted on Thursday. Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley also said that resignation or impeachment would be the only two options if Buzzfeed’s reporting was accurate.
“The conduct alleged by BuzzFeed is consistent with other, independent evidence of Donald Trump as candidate instructing others to lie and Donald Trump as president obstructing justice,” said Democratic Representative Eric Swalwell.
Swalwell said that “evidence is not a conclusion” and “must be tested,” but added that if the reporting was confirmed, “I don’t think anyone will be surprised.”
In an extraordinary step however, the Special Counsel’s Office challenged the veracity of certain aspects of Buzzfeed’s reporting in a statement emailed to reporters on Friday.
“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,” said Peter Carr, a spokesperson for Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Many people are saying that the Mainstream Media will have a very hard time restoring credibility because of the way they have treated me over the past 3 years (including the election lead-up), as highlighted by the disgraceful Buzzfeed story & the even more disgraceful coverage!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 19, 2019
Trump, who has repeatedly called the Mueller probe a “witch hunt,” called the Buzzfeed reporting “phony” and “disgraceful” and thanked Mueller for his statement.
CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin called Mueller’s pushback on Buzzfeed’s reporting a “bad day” for journalism, adding that it “reinforces every bad stereotype about the news media.”
Garrett Graff, a journalist and CNN contributor disagreed with the notion that Mueller’s statement was a blanket denial of the entire story, instead characterizing it as “disputing the Buzzfeed report.”
In emailed comments to MediaFile, Graff said that the statement served the dual purpose of reaffirming that the Special Counsel’s Office was not leaking information to Buzzfeed and trying to “calm the political waters” as Congressional Democrats began to talk about impeachment.
“It didn’t read to me as a straight-up denial, rather a calculated and specific dispute of some parts of the Buzzfeed story,” Graff said.
On Sunday, Anthony Cormier, one of the reporters who broke the story, was joined by Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed News, on CNN’s Reliable Sources, where they said that their sources were “standing behind” their reporting.
“We’re being told to stand our ground. Our reporting is going to be borne out to be accurate, and we’re 100% behind it,” Cormier said.
Cormier, who won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, added that the story, which was the latest in a series of reports broken by Buzzfeed on the Trump-Russia scandal, went through a “rigorous” vetting process. Smith said that the story was reviewed by at least three editors.