WASHINGTON (CN) – The special counsel’s office issued a public statement Friday disputing a news report that accused President Donald Trump of telling his former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.
Citing two federal law enforcement officials, Buzzfeed News reported Thursday that Trump told Cohen to tell investigators that negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow ended “months earlier than they actually did.”
In a move rarely taken by a special counsel, Robert Mueller’s office on Friday night refuted Buzzfeed’s report.
“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,” said special counsel spokesman Peter Carr.
Buzzfeed News Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith said the organization is standing by its reporting and asked the special counsel to clarify the inaccuracies.
“We urge the special counsel to make clear what he’s disputing,” Smith said.
Friday’s statement by the special counsel came after several congressional Democrats called for an investigation following Buzzfeed’s report.
House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff said Friday that they are “already working to secure” documents and track down witnesses who can shed light on the Trump Tower Moscow dealings. If the details of the BuzzFeed report are corroborated, Schiff said it would amount to obstruction of justice.
“As a counterintelligence concern of the greatest magnitude, and given that these alleged efforts were intended to interfere with our investigation, our committee is determined to get to the bottom of this and follow the evidence wherever it may lead,” Schiff said in a statement.
Trump quickly took to Twitter Friday evening, retweeting posts that called the Buzzfeed article “fake news.”
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s attorney, also tweeted a post condemning news outlets for covering the story.
“I commend Bob Mueller’s office for correcting the BuzzFeed false story that Pres. Trump encouraged Cohen to lie. I ask the press to take heed that their hysterical desire to destroy this President has gone too far. They pursued this without critical analysis all day. #FAKENEWS,” Giuliani tweeted.
Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying to Congress about the business deal, specifically the claim that the project was dead by the beginning of 2016.
The Buzzfeed article quickly gained traction among Democrats, who were eager to tweet about it Friday morning.
Representative Jerry Nadler, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said Friday morning his committee would look into the allegations included in the report as well, noting that directing someone to lie to Congress is a federal crime.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a fellow Judiciary Committee member, noted the gravity of the allegations, saying on Twitter that if true, the allegations are “plain, slam-dunk, criminal obstruction of justice.”
Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn., tweeted Friday that special counsel Robert Mueller should inform Congress “before it’s too late for us to act” if he has evidence Cohen lied to them at Trump’s direction.
But Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va., took a different stance on Friday, telling reporters Mueller shouldn’t be so quick to wrap up his work.
“I am not going to advise him on his timing,” Kaine told reporters at the Capitol on Friday. “I think it needs to be thorough and complete because the way I look at his investigation, it’s not just about the culpability of individuals, it’s also about an effort to subvert our democracy that would give us the tools that we need to protect our democracy. So if you force him out before he’s done, then we’re not going to have the full story that we need to protect our democracy.”
Kaine also pointed to the memo penned by William Barr, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, detailing his views of Mueller’s investigation. Kaine said Trump’s alleged actions seem to square with Barr’s theory of obstruction expressed in the memo.
He also noted many of the people in Trump’s orbit accused of lying to investigators or to Congress have done so on the subject of their Russian contacts.
“Suborning perjury is wrong under any circumstance, but this fits into a very, very troubling pattern of dishonest about this one thing and that also raises serious issues,” Kaine said.