On Friday night, the special counsel issued a rare public statement, disputing the BuzzFeed News report that President Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about plans to build a tower in Moscow. “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, spokesman for the Mueller investigation. It appears to be the first time the special counsel has publicly contested a news account, casting doubt on a major collusion break that had some Democrats talking potential obstruction of justice charges.
On Twitter, journalists weighed the details of the Mueller investigation’s decision to break radio silence and comment on the report — almost 24 hours after its initial publication in which they issued a “no comment.” Reporter Peter Sterne posed three possible options for the contention: There are minor inconsistencies in the report; it’s substantively incorrect; or it
correctly depicts what Cohen told federal prosecutors in a different office, like the Southern District of New York. Ronan Farrow, who broke the story of Trump’s alleged affair with Karen McDougal, tweeted that he “declined to run with parts of the narrative they conveyed based on a source central to the story repeatedly disputing the idea that Trump directly issued orders of that kind.” Additionally, the New York Times claims that a source “familiar with Mr. Cohen’s testimony to the special counsel’s prosecutors said that Mr. Cohen did not state that the president had pressured him to lie to Congress.” BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith announced his confidence in his team’s reporting and requested that Mueller “make clear what he’s disputing.” On CNN, Smith also said that BuzzFeed was not “playing any games with the characterization” of their two federal law enforcement sources.
On Friday morning, House Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff announced that the committee was “already working to secure additional witness testimony and documents related to the Trump Tower Moscow deal and other investigative matters.” (As of publication, Schiff has not given a statement on the special counsel’s update.) Before the Mueller team’s surprise announcement, Democrats were discussing “impeachment” en masse for the first time in a while, with at least four members of Congress using the word on Thursday and Friday — talk that will likely die down pending further investigation of the BuzzFeed account.
When the special counsel published its comment, Trump began retweeting takedowns of of BuzzFeed News. As New York’s Olivia Nuzzi noted, “Whatever ends up being the case about the BuzzFeed story, it sure is interesting to see the president and all of his supporters so eager to accept as fact the statement put out by the special counsel’s office.” In this case of rare camaraderie, it appears that the enemy of the “enemy of the people” is his friend.