News stories spark congressional investigations all the time. But whoever heard of a discredited news story sparking an investigation about charges that were already debunked by the person charged with investigating them?
Probably nobody until the era of Donald Trump, when mendacious reporters collude with Democratic politicians to “get” the President and undo the results of the 2016 election they all insisted he would not win.
In an extraordinary and unequivocal statement Friday evening the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller debunked a BuzzFeed News story co-written by a fabulist with a history of plagiarism that claimed Donald Trump told his former lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project.
Mueller’s spokesman 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.”
Nevertheless, California Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on “Face the Nation” Sunday that he would “absolutely” investigate claims in the story anyway.
“Congress has a fundamental interest in two things. First, getting to the bottom of why this witness came before us and lied, and who else was knowledgeable that this was a lie.”
Asked about the Special Counsel’s statement by host Margaret Brennan, Schiff said it may have been “prompted by the reaction to that BuzzFeed report,” which sparked calls for impeachment.
“But also it may have to do with the special counsel’s wanting to be able to use Michael Cohen as a witness in further prosecutions and wanted to make sure that the public didn’t have a perception that he was saying more than he was saying at least to the special counsel.“
Regardless, “I think we need to pay particular attention to what we do know from the special counsel that was not included in this statement yesterday. What we do know from the special counsel is that Michael Cohen has shared information about core matters of the Russian investigation that he learned from people associated with the Trump Organization, the business organization.
“We also know from the special counsel that he has shared information about his communications with people associated with the White House during 2017 and 2018. Now [in] that period during 2017 and 2018 that Michael Cohen was making false statements publicly and to Congress and initially the special counsel about the Trump Tower deal. So there is a lot more to learn.”
Schiff added that he had given Michael Cohen a date to testify before his Committee, either “voluntarily or if necessary by subpoena.”
Cohen has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow. He said negotiations for the development ended much earlier than they actually did.
Rudy Giuliani, the President’s spokesman, has said it is absolutely false that Trump told Cohen to lie but on Sunday speculated that it was possible the two men discussed Cohen’s testimony.
“I don’t know if it happened or didn’t happen. It may be attorney-client privilege if it happened, where I can’t acknowledge it,” the former New York City Mayor told “State of the Union” host Jake Tapper. “But I have no knowledge that he spoke to him, but I’m telling you I wasn’t there then,”
Guiliani asked rhetorically, “So what if he talked to him about it?”
And he lashed out at BuzzFeed, saying they “should be sued, they should be under investigation. You’ve got a hysteria in the media that interprets everything against Donald Trump. What they did yesterday was truly fake news and disgusting.”
The BuzzFeed News story was written by Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold, who has been fired from or dropped by a handful of news organizations, including the LA Times, Dow Jones, the Nation and Salon. He once falsely reported based on supposedly knowledgeable and anonymous authoritative sources–exactly the kind he has for the Trump story!–that an indictment of Karl Rove for outing Valerie Plame as a CIA agent was imminent. Rove was never charged.
Cormier and Leopold reported that, “President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.”
They claimed that, “two sources have told BuzzFeed News that Cohen also told the special counsel 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.”
“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.”
BuzzFeed trusted Leopold, oft-fired fabulist, with a story that’s crumbled
But it now turns out that when Leopold contacted Mueller’s office for comment he withheld important information about what he was really going to report. Leopold did not say he was going to report sources claiming Cohen informed the Independent Counsel’s office that Trump told him to lie. Or that Mueller’s officer had uncovered evidence of the instruction.
He clearly didn’t want to include a strong denial from the Special Counsel’s office in his story.
According to CNN, Leopold simply told spokesman Peter Carr that we have “a story coming stating that Michael Cohen was directed by President Trump himself to lie to Congress about his negotiations related to the Trump Moscow project.”
Carr then declined comment. Why would he comment on a story that BuzzFeed News led him to believe wasn’t about his office?
The chicancery continues.
BuzzFeed News is standing by its story and pretending the specifics of what the Special Counsel is disputing is unclear. BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith said on CNN Friday night that Mueller had issued “a vague statement disputing the piece, and we really urge the Special Counsel to make it clear what he is disputing.”
Actually, it couldn’t be any clearer. Even the Washington Post, which leads the league in bashing Trump, specifically characterized Mueller’s denial as categorical: “Mueller’s denial, according to people familiar with the matter, aims to make clear that none of those statements in the story are accurate.”
Again, Mueller’s office said the website’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.
So what exactly is the mystery here? To state the obvious, the Independent Counsel made very clear they weren’t told what BuzzFeed said they were told and they don’t have what BuzzFeed said they have.
In other words, they denied the story.
But now Adam Schiff is giving it legs anyway.
Reached for comment Sunday night, Smith said, “I’m sorry, Evan, I’m driving. Please feel free to send me an email” and then immediately hung up.
Smith is to be applauded for his commitment to safe driving, but one can imagine how his reporters would view a similar response from someone they were trying to contact. Meanwhile, Smith and Leopold did not respond to emails asking why Leopold didn’t tell the Special Counsel’s office what he was really writing about.