Update: Special Counsel's office issues statement saying portions of "bombshell" Buzzfeed report "not accurate."
In a rare public statement out of the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday evening, spokeperson Peter Carr said, "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."
While the statement does not cite any specific errors, the central—and certainly the most explosive—claim of the reporting was that Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen was told by the president to lie to Congress regarding business dealings in Moscow during the 2016 campaign.
In response, journalist Glenn Greenwald—who earlier in the day had urged at least some level of skepticism about the reporting given that it was based largely on the claims of anonymous law enforcement sources—tweeted:
Here's the last time Mueller's office issued a statement about a media story - last year, when they warned media outlets not to believe or report things unless they had actual, independent confirmation for it, because so much is inaccurate. I wouldn't say that warning was heeded: https://t.co/N3vJ5rAoyJ— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 19, 2019
While the story sparked immediate and widespread calls for impeachment proceedings to begin (see below), it turns out that the "if true" caveat was very much needed as news outlets and the American people grappled with the implications of Buzzfeed's reporting over the last 24 hours.
Greenwald also noted the hysteria the original story had stirred and wondered who, if anyone, would be held to account:
24 straight hours of completely uncritical, mindless, hysterical cable news coverage on a story - complete with calls for impeachment - that Muller's office now says was fundamentally false. This has happened over and over in the Trump/Russia story. Why don't people trust media?? https://t.co/6uHRE95bqg— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 19, 2019
In light of the rare denial issued by Mueller's office of the BuzzFeed story, I'd stay it's now vital that BuzzFeed 1) address these questions posed by @gtconway3d & 2) explain the discrepancy that Leopold told MSNBC he saw documents proving it while Cormier told CNN they hadn't. https://t.co/b7kZP4c7NI— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 19, 2019
In the wake of a bombshell report late Thursday that President Donald Trump personally ordered his former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations with Russia to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, Democratic lawmakers, legal experts, and progressive commentators were quick to stress the severity of the allegation and argue that—if the reporting is accurate—impeachment proceedings should begin.
"There's more than enough on the record now to establish the case for impeachment. The only question is whether Congress will do what's right."
—David Roberts, Vox
"If the Buzzfeed story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached," Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) declared on Twitter in response to the explosive report, which cited two anonymous law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.
According to Buzzfeed, Cohen told special counsel Robert Mueller that "after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie—by claiming that negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did—in order to obscure Trump's involvement" in talks to construct a Trump Tower in Moscow.
"The special counsel's office learned about Trump's directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents," Buzzfeed reported. "On the campaign trail, Trump vehemently denied having any business interests in Russia. But behind the scenes, he was pushing the Moscow project, which he hoped could bring his company profits in excess of $300 million."
"Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying about the deal in testimony and in a two-page statement to the Senate and House Intelligence committees," Buzzfeed noted. "Mueller noted that Cohen's false claim that the project ended in January 2016 was an attempt to 'minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1'—widely understood to be Trump—'in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.'"
Analysts immediately pointed out that instructing witnesses to commit perjury—which legal experts say constitutes obstruction of justice—was part of the articles of impeachment against former Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
"Let’s be clear," journalist Mehdi Hasan wrote for The Intercept on Friday morning: "This is obstruction of justice, plain and simple. If this report from BuzzFeed News is correct, the president has committed a crime — obstruction of justice is prohibited by a number of federal criminal laws, including obstruction of judicial proceedings (18 U.S.C. 1503) and witness tampering (18 U.S.C. 1512) — and should therefore be impeached and indicted."
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"Start the impeachment proceedings," the advocacy group People for Bernie demanded after Buzzfeed's story broke—a demand that was widely echoed across social media.
There's no more "what if Mueller finds something" or "what if there were crimes." It's sitting in front of us. There's MORE than enough on the record now to establish the case for impeachment. The only question is whether Congress will do what's right. https://t.co/s7auU6Puf7— David Roberts (@drvox) January 18, 2019
So now we know that the president instructed his personal lawyer & fixer to not just pay hush money to cover up an affair but also told him to lie to Congress about his ties to Russia.— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) January 18, 2019
And some people still think it's too soon to discuss impeachment? Are you f**king kidding me?
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee immediately vowed to investigate the claims made in Buzzfeed's story after it broke Thursday night.
"The allegation that the president of the United States may have suborned perjury before our committee in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chair of the Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. "We will do what's necessary to find out if it's true."
Rep. Eric Swalwell, also a member of the committee, characterized Buzzfeed's report as "powerful evidence of collusion."
"I say that because it is a consciousness of guilt," Swalwell said in an appearance on MSNBC. "He is asking Michael Cohen to lie because the truth would expose what was going on with the Russians early on in the candidacy."
While independent investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler called the Buzzfeed story a "huge, impeachment-worthy scoop" if true, she cautioned that there are details in the story that still must be explained.
And Buzzfeed needs to explain, explicitly, why its two LE sources are saying something very different from what Mueller has said in court filings.— emptywheel (@emptywheel) January 18, 2019
The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald similarly urged caution about the story given that it is based on the claims of anonymous law enforcement sources.
"Lying to Congress is a felony. People have gone to prison for it. It's an impeachable offense," Greenwald wrote in a series of tweets on Friday. "At some point, hopefully, we'll be able to see Mueller's conclusions and evidence instead of often-wrong snippets anonymously leaked and thus constantly having 'if true' discussions."