In January, BuzzFeed reported President Donald Trump told his personal attorney to lie to Congress under oath about negotiations with Russians to build Trump Tower Moscow and say they had ended before the primaries in the U.S. presidential election. BuzzFeed cited two unnamed law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the Trump Tower Moscow effort.
That report was such a barn-burner, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office issued a rare public statement refuting the report, saying “BuzzFeed’s descriptions of specific statements to the special counsel office and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony, are not accurate.”
BuzzFeed had countered: “We are continuing to report and determine what the special counsel is disputing. We remain confident in the accuracy of our report.”
A redacted version of Mueller’s report was released Thursday; BuzzFeed News Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith penned an update.
“Today, with the release of the Mueller report, we know which characterization Carr was disputing: Specifically, that the series of interactions between Trump, Cohen, and their lawyers did not, in the prosecutors’ view, amount to Trump ‘directing’ Cohen to lie.”
“As Mueller’s team wrote in the report: ‘While there is evidence … that the president knew Cohen provided false testimony to Congress … the evidence to us does not establish the president directed or aided Cohen’s false testimony’.”
As a matter of what constitutes a crime, “Mueller has the last word, and his characterization has the force of law,” Smith said.
BuzzFeed’s story had been based on information from senior law enforcement sources and included notes taken during an FBI interview of Cohen. In that interview, one law enforcement source wrote: “DJT personally asked Cohen to say negotiations ended in January and White House counsel office knew Cohen would give false testimony to Congress. Sanctioned by DJT. Joint lawyer team reviewed letter Cohen sent to SSCI about his testimony about Trump Tower moscow, et al, knowing it contained lies.”
The law enforcement source also wrote: “Cohen told OSC” — the Office of Special Counsel — “he was asked to lie by DJT/DJT Jr., lawyers.”
The Mueller report, Smith noted, finds that Cohen lied at what he believed to be the president’s behest, that the president knew he was giving false testimony, and that the president’s lawyers encouraged that testimony. Mueller’s report says Trump’s attorney told Cohen to “stay on message, and not contradict the President.”
The facts of Cohen’s lies and his interactions with Trump are, largely, now settled. Our sources…interpreted the evidence Cohen presented as meaning that the president “directed” Cohen to lie. We now know that Mueller did not.”