Fox News, President Donald Trump’s favorite news network, is having a tough time framing new revelations that Trump reportedly asked former lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about then-secret negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
On Thursday evening, BuzzFeed News published a bombshell report outlining the claim, stating that Cohen had told Special Counsel Robert Mueller Trump had “personally instructed him to lie” following the election about the timing of the proposed Moscow project, which he claimed ended months earlier than it actually did.
As BuzzFeed noted, Cohen’s revelation “marks a significant new frontier: It is the first known example of Trump explicitly telling a subordinate to lie directly about his own dealings with Russia.” (The special counsel’s office later issued a rare statement disputing narrow aspects of BuzzFeed’s reporting; BuzzFeed is standing by its story.)
The news did not go over well among Trump’s staunchest supporters. On Fox & Friends Friday morning, following a two and a half hour stretch in which the report was not discussed, Trump ally Newt Gingrich finally joined the hosts remotely to speak about the report, parroting the president’s lawyers and claiming the idea Trump would tell Cohen to lie was absurd.
“This is an absurdity,” he said. “Can you imagine any president of the United States being dumb enough to say ‘I would like you to go over to lie to Congress’? It’s crazy. Only the modern liberal media would give it any credit.”
The hosts later asked what would happen if Cohen and investigators have solid evidence, beyond Cohen’s word, that Trump directed him to lie, such as text messages or emails. Gingrich replied, “Text messages from whom? Is it text messages from Trump, or is it Cohen being wildly delusional?”
“Look, what you just did,” Gingrich added a short while later. “You now have me talking about hypothetical of whether or not the president might be in trouble, if a nut-cake who is routinely lying might have in fact — what kind of paperwork? Paperwork from Trump or paperwork from Cohen? Paperwork from Cohen is as useless as Cohen’s own words.”
Earlier in the show, host Brian Kilmeade had teased Gingrich’s appearance as a chance to talk about “the blockbuster BuzzFeed story that has him directing Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.”
“This would be a big deal, but is it true?” he asked, skeptically.
Another brief news update simply featured a Fox News correspondent reading Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s statement, “If you believe Cohen, I can get you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge.”
Later Friday morning, Lara Trump, who works for Trump’s re-election campaign and is married to the president’s son, Eric, appeared on Fox News to call Cohen a “desperate man,” dubbing the story “ridiculous” and “all made up.”
America’s Newsroom anchors Bill Hemmer and Sandra Smith also interviewed White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley, who claimed it was “absolutely ludicrous” to listen to BuzzFeed News. He then refused to deny that Trump told Cohen to lie.
“You’re saying the president did not tell Michael Cohen to do that,” Hemmer said.
“I’m telling you right now this is exactly why the president refuses to give any credence or credibility to news outlets, because they have no ability to corroborate anything they’re putting out there. Instead they are just using innuendo, shady sources,” Gidley replied.
After Hemmer noted the response was not a clear-cut denial of his question, Gidley added, “No, but the premise is ridiculous. We’re also talking about a person in Michael Cohen who quite frankly has now been proven to be a liar, he self-admits that he’s a felon, so to give him any credibility, it just doesn’t warrant any response from the White House.”
On Thursday night, before the news broke, Fox News hosts and contributors were largely busy mocking Cohen for a Wall Street Journal report that he had tried to rig early online polls about the 2016 election by hiring IT firms with a bag full of cash.
Host Shannon Bream then broke into her late-night program with a news brief on the BuzzFeed report. She contextualized the report by noting “Cohen has, of course, pleaded guilty to lying about the deal.” She concluded: “We’ll see which version of the truth Cohen is telling this time.”
Bream later asked a panel of Fox News contributors about the report, who then struggled to find the proper response to it.
Contributor Guy Benson warned that the reports were still uncertain. “Proceed with caution on this story,” he said. He did conclude, however, that if there are “texts, emails, and documents…that is an enormous, enormous problem for this president.”
David Avella, the chair of GOPAC, a Republican political training organization, suggested the story might be widely talked about for a day before being lost in a flood of other news.
“Right now it’s media coverage by speculation and as Guy pointed out, many stories about this whole investigation, you hear a big bombshell headline, or you read a big bombshell headline and a couple days later you don’t hear anything about it.”
Friday afternoon, Trump and his lawyers came out in full force against the report, echoing Fox News’ rhetoric that it was inaccurate because Cohen was a liar.
“Any suggestion — from any source — that the President counseled Michael Cohen to lie is categorically false,” Giuliani said in a statement. “…Today’s claims are just more made-up lies born of Michael Cohen’s malice and desperation, in an effort to reduce his sentence.”
Trump himself tweeted a response to the BuzzFeed article, quoting Fox News White House reporter Kevin Corke and issuing what appeared to be a threat against Cohen’s father.
“Kevin Corke, @FoxNews ‘Don’t forget, Michael Cohen has already been convicted of perjury and fraud, and as recently as this week, the Wall Street Journal has suggested that he may have stolen tens of thousands of dollars….'” he wrote. “Lying to reduce his jail time! Watch father-in-law!”
This story was updated to include a statement from the special counsel’s office denying narrow aspects of BuzzFeed’s reporting on Michael Cohen.