Update : Mueller team disputes aspects of BuzzFeed report on Trump, Cohen
The special counsel’s normally tight-lipped operation issued a statement saying there were inaccuracies in a blockbuster report that the president instructed his former personal attorney to lie to Congress. “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,” Mueller spokesman Peter Carr said in a statement. He did not elaborate.
BuzzFeed, citing two anonymous sources, alleges that President Donald Trump directed his personal lawyer Michael Cohen to make false statements to Congress regarding a proposal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and wanted to meet with Putin himself about the proposal.
The Thursday report claims that the president “supported a plan” arranged by Cohen to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the 2016 election to “jump-start” negotiations on the real estate deal, telling his longtime attorney, “make it happen,” according to two federal law enforcement officials. Further, BuzzFeed’s report alleges that President Trump received 10 “personal updates” regarding the proposed project from Cohen, who according to the unnamed sources, requested that his lawyer tell lawmakers that his involvement in the project concluded earlier than it actually did. The sources also claim the president’s children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka Trump, received updates on the proposed tower.
Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, dismissed the report, telling The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker: “If you believe Cohen I can get you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge.”
Several Democrats, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA), have said they will take action against the president, pending the claims made in BuzzFeed’s report are factual.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) called for the president to resign or face impeachment — again — contingent upon the report being true.
In an appearance on CNN’s New Day Friday morning, Anthony Cormier, who co-authored BuzzFeed’s report, stood by his story, even though he had “not personally” seen the evidence. Host Alisyn Camerota also pressed Cormier on the “dubious past” of the report’s other author Jason Leopold, who had a story retracted by Salon in 2002 for erroneous reporting. Leopold also wrongly reported in 2006 that Karl Rove, President George W. Bush’s chief political strategist, had been indicted.
In November, Cohen stated in a guilty plea that he lied to Congress about a Moscow real estate deal he pursued on President Trump’s behalf during the heat of the 2016 Republican campaign. He claimed he lied to be consistent with President Trump’s “political messaging.”
Cohen was sentenced December 12 to three years in federal prison after pleading guilty to several charges, including campaign finance violations and making false statements to Congress. Prior to his sentencing, Federal prosecutors in Manhattan asked a judge to sentence Cohen to a “substantial term of imprisonment,” arguing that he had been motivated by “personal greed.”
The plea agreement made clear that prosecutors believe that while President Trump insisted repeatedly throughout the campaign that he had no business dealings in Russia, his lawyer was continuing to pursue the Trump Tower Moscow project weeks after his boss had clinched the Republican nomination for president and well beyond the point that had been previously acknowledged.
Cohen said he discussed the proposal with President Trump on multiple occasions and with members of the president’s family, according to documents filed by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the presidential election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign. Cohen acknowledged considering traveling to Moscow to discuss the project.
However, there is no clear link in the court filings between Cohen’s lies and Mueller’s central question of whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. And nothing said in court, or in associated court filings, addressed whether Trump or his aides had directed Cohen to mislead Congress.
Reacting to Cohen’s plea, President Trump called Cohen a “weak person” who was lying to get a lighter sentence and stressed that the real estate deal at issue was never a secret and never executed. Giuliani said that Cohen was a “proven liar” and that Trump’s business organization had voluntarily given Mueller the documents cited in the guilty plea “because there was nothing to hide.”
“There would be nothing wrong if I did do it,” the president said of pursuing the project. “I was running my business while I was campaigning. There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won, in which case I would have gone back into the business, and why should I lose lots of opportunities?”
Cohen is slated to testify before the House Oversight Committee on February 7 on his work for President Trump.