President Donald Trump ripped into BuzzFeed Saturday over a bombshell news report this week that quoted sources saying he instructed his former lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress — a federal crime that would have jeopardized his presidency, if it were proven to be true.
He made his remarks the day after a spokesman from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office disputed some aspects of the BuzzFeed report, but fell short of denying it entirely.
Speaking from the White House lawn Saturday, Trump, who called calling the news site a “disgrace to journalism,” also upbraided the “mainstream media” for circulating the report which, if true, would have implicated him a federal crime and made him a possible target of impeachment.
“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,” the president said.
Late Friday, Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, Peter Carr, issued a statement that took issue with some aspects of the story.
“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,” Carr said.
The BuzzFeed report suggested Trump had obstructed justice by inducing Michael Cohen to lie to Congress. Cohen has admitted he lied to Congress in 2017 about the nature of a real estate deal then-candidate Donald Trump was pursuing in Russia.
Trump also did not refute details of the story, but thanked the special counsel’s office for “coming out with a statement.”
Trump then offered a characteristic rebuke of all “mainstream media,” calling the media phony and naming the New York Times as well as BuzzFeed.
BuzzFeed continues to standy by its reporting. Editor-in-chief Ben Smith said in a statement that the publication “remain[s] confident in the accuracy of our report.” He told Rachel Maddow Friday night that BuzzFeed is “trying to to understand what the special counsel is actually saying in this statement, which is obviously disputing some element of our story but it’s very difficult to understand which one.”
— Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) January 19, 2019
Maddow asked if Smith or reporters had been in contact with the special counsel’s office before publishing the story. Smith said they had reached out to request comment once they were prepared to publish the story, which is standard journalism practice, but didn’t specify whether the sources were with the special counsel’s office. He said the same sources reached out to BuzzFeed after publication and reaffirmed its accuracy.
Smith earlier tweeted to “urge the Special Counsel to make clear what he’s disputing.”
It’s unusual for the special counsel to make any public statement in response to media reports about its work, and the Mueller’s office is notoriously leak-proof: No major news developments about the investigation (or about the president’s ties to Russia or his business practices) has ever cited sources directly inside the special counsel’s office.
That includes this week’s BuzzFeed’s reporting, which does not specifically cite sources inside the special counsel’s office. Reporters Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold characterized their sources as “two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.”
The Southern District of New York has also been investigating Cohen for crimes. Cohen pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court last August to felonies that include tax evasion and campaign finance violations. Cohen said he committed crimes, including campaign finance violations, at the direction of Trump, who was identified in court filings as identified as “Individual 1.” Mueller’s office elicited a guilty plea from Cohen in November over lying in his testimony to Congress and violating his prior plea deal.
Democratic lawmakers responded to the BuzzFeed report by calling for congressional investigation into the claims and by asking additional questions of Trump’s AG nominee William Barr (who would, if confirmed, oversee the Mueller investigation and issue the report on its findings to Congress).
The president continues to deny any involvement with Russia and maintains the special counsel’s investigation (which by now has secured dozens indictments and at least eight guilty pleas and convictions) is a political “witch hunt.”
Many people are saying that the Mainstream Media will have a very hard time restoring credibility because of the way they have treated me over the past 3 years (including the election lead-up), as highlighted by the disgraceful Buzzfeed story & the even more disgraceful coverage!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 19, 2019
Republicans have taken steps to protect the president from Mueller’s investigation. Three different bills to protect the special counsel from White House interference have failed on the Senate floor, with votes falling along party lines.