Special Counsel Robert Mueller took the rare step of denying a media report about his Russia investigation, rejecting a story by BuzzFeed News saying that President Donald Trump instructed his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.
“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,” Peter Carr, a Mueller spokesman, said Friday night in a statement.
The BuzzFeed report, published Thursday night, set off criticism of Trump from congressional Democrats — although most took care to say that the allegations were disturbing if true.
Mueller and his staff have seldom made any public comment except through court filings as he has pursued indictments and won guilty pleas in his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Cohen has pleaded guilty to nine felonies and is due to turn himself in on March 6 to begin serving a three-year prison sentence. He admitted to lying to Congress by testifying that negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow ended early in 2016, when they actually continued well into the 2016 presidential campaign.
BuzzFeed reported that Trump “directed” Cohen to lie about the Trump Tower negotiations, citing “federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter”’ who it didn’t identify. BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith said on Twitter after the Mueller statement that “we stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it, and we urge the Special Counsel to make clear what he’s disputing.”
Cohen is scheduled to testify publicly before the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 7. But that panel will be constrained from asking him about matters still under investigation by Mueller. The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said Friday that Cohen also is expected to return before that panel early next month for questioning behind closed doors.
Senator Mark Warner of Virginia said that he wanted to question Cohen about the BuzzFeed report, while adding that “we don’t know whether the new report about Cohen being told to lie by the president is true or not.”
Trump has called Cohen a “rat” and a liar. Rudy Giuliani, who represents the president in the Mueller inquiry, said Friday that “any suggestion – from any source – that the president counseled Michael Cohen to lie is categorically false.”
After the statement from Mueller’s office, the president said on Twitter, “Remember it was Buzzfeed that released the totally discredited ‘Dossier,’ paid for by Crooked Hillary Clinton and the Democrats (as opposition research), on which the entire Russian probe is based! A very sad day for journalism, but a great day for our Country!”
He was referring to the publication by BuzzFeed News of a file prepared by a former British spy named Christopher Steele on behalf of Trump opponents in 2016. The file contains a wide array of allegations, many unproven, of connections between Trump and Russian figures.