Report of Trump subornation disputed by Special Counsel
BuzzFeed continues to back claim around US president, Michael Cohen and perjury
Democrats vow to investigate whether President Donald Trump directed Michael Cohen, his personal attorney at the time, to lie to Congress about a Moscow real estate project. Photograph: Jeenah Moon
A report carried by news website BuzzFeed claiming that President Donald Trump directed his former lawyer to lie to Congress has been disputed by the Special Counsel office in a highly unusual move.
On Thursday night BuzzFeed reported that Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s long-term lawyer, had told investigators that Mr Trump “personally instructed him to lie” about the timing of negotiations on a proposed Trump hotel in Moscow.
Citing two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter, the news website reported that Mr Cohen told the Special Counsel that the president instructed him to lie after the election “in order to obscure Trump’s involvement”.
Mr Cohen had already admitted to lying to Congress about negotiations on the Moscow project. While he originally stated in written testimony that negotiations had concluded in January 2016, he later conceded that talks had continued right up to June 2016 when Mr Trump was on the brink of clinching the Republican nomination for president.
But BuzzFeed’s report that Mr Trump had instructed him to lie represented a more serious allegation – one that could implicate the president in a felony. Just 24 hours after the original article appeared, the office of the Special Counsel issued a statement dismissing the report.
“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s office, and characterisation of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate,” a spokesman said.
BuzzFeed’s editor said that the news website continued to stand by the story. In particular, he suggested that the Special Counsel statement was ambiguous in its assertions about what it was disputing.
“In response to the statement tonight from the Special Counsel’s spokesman: we stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it, and we urge the Special Counsel to make clear what he’s disputing.”
The website continued to carry the story throughout the weekend.
While virtually all news outlets reported Buzzfeed’s story on Friday, no other media publication corroborated the story.
Nonetheless, several senior Democrats threatened to examine the reports further, with some suggesting it could represent an impeachable offence.
Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee said that his committee would secure additional witness testimony and documents following the reports. If true, the allegations “would constitute both the subornation of perjury as well as obstruction of justice”, he said.
Jerry Nadler, the head of the House Judiciary Committee, also threatened action. “Directing a subordinate to lie to Congress is a federal crime. The House Judiciary Committee’s job is to get to the bottom of it, and we will do that work,” he tweeted.
The controversy over the BuzzFeed story comes at a difficult point in the relationship between the White House and news media, with Mr Trump frequently dismissing mainstream media outlets such as the New York Times and CNN as “fake news”.
Mr Trump welcomed the Special Counsel’s statement as he left the White House on Saturday to meet the families of four members of the US military who were killed in Syria last week.
“I appreciate the Special Counsel coming out with a statement last night. I think it was very appropriate that they did so. I very much appreciate that,” he said. But he added that the disputed report was a “disgrace to journalism”.
“I think that the BuzzFeed piece was a disgrace to our country. It was a disgrace to journalism, and I think also that the coverage by the mainstream media was disgraceful.”
He said that it was going to take “a long time for the mainstream media to recover its credibility”.
“It’s lost tremendous credibility. And believe me, that hurts me when I see that. I’m the president of this country. Media could pull this country together. It hurts me to say it, but mainstream media has truly lost its credibility.”