Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will press President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general further on his views about obstruction of justice after BuzzFeed News reported Thursday night that the president told his former lawyer to lie to Congress.
Leahy, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, “will ask follow up questions relevant to last night’s and other similar reporting,” spokesperson David Carle told ThinkProgress by email.
In November, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about a real estate deal Trump’s company pursued in Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. The BuzzFeed report said Special Counsel Robert Mueller has learned that Trump directed Cohen to lie. If true, most legal experts agree it would place Trump in grave legal danger.
On Friday night, a spokesperson for the special counsel’s office issued a rare statement narrowly disputing aspects of BuzzFeed’s reporting:
“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.”
In response, BuzzFeed Editor Ben Smith wrote, “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 line of inquiry is part of Mueller’s ongoing probe into Russian election interference and any coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. Trump has called the investigation a “witch hunt,” and it played a large role in his decisions to fire former FBI Director James Comey in May 2017 and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in November. Mueller is reportedly looking at whether firing Comey may have crossed the line into obstruction of justice.
Barr’s confirmation hearing on Tuesday focused on a controversial memo he wrote last summer that argued the president cannot obstruct justice by firing one of his subordinates. Many Democrats accused Barr of writing the memo to signal that he would shield Trump from Mueller’s probe if he were nominated, but Barr denied this in his hearing Tuesday.
While the memo has raised serious concerns among Democrats, the memo also makes clear that a president cannot suborn perjury, or coach a witness to give false testimony.
“[I]f a President knowingly destroys or alters evidence, suborns perjury, or induces a witness to change testimony … then he, like anyone else, commits the crime of obstruction,” the memo said.
Barr repeated that position several times on Tuesday when pressed by senators.
“Barr has already answered this question, both during the hearing and in his memo,” a staffer for a Democrat on the committee, who asked not to be identified by name, told ThinkProgress.
Others legislators, like Leahy, are still concerned about what Barr’s nomination could mean for the ongoing Mueller probe — especially since Barr said in his testimony Tuesday that he interprets Justice Department regulations to mean that he cannot release Mueller’s final report to either Congress or the public. Barr would only commit to releasing his own report about the Mueller investigation.
The revelations about Cohen only deepen concerns about a transparent outcome for the investigation, and some members of the House are now talking about moving ahead with articles of impeachment independent of the Mueller probe.
“We should do all we can in Congress with the subpoena power and oversight responsibility to see if Trump acted this way,” Rep. Eric Swalwell, a member of the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, told The Atlantic. “I don’t think anyone will be surprised if it’s confirmed.”
This story was updated to include a statement from the special counsel’s office denying narrow aspects of BuzzFeed’s reporting on Michael Cohen.