Special Counsel’s Robert Muller made an unprecedented move in disputing a report by “media” outlet BuzzFeed News that President Trump instructed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.
In the past, Mueller has said many of the stories floated around by the press about the Russia investigation were inaccurate or misleading. But, this is the first time Mueller has felt compelled to issue a statement that named a particular story or source as false.
A counsel’s office spokesman told Business Insider:
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.
Making the counsel’s statement more serious was the speed with which they went public with a denial. Less than 24 hours after the original story broke and mainstream media sources along with liberal opponents had proclaimed it proof that impeachment might be imminent, The Washington Post suggested they all got ahead of themselves.
Longtime Trump antagonist, The Post reported the move by Mueller’s office gave its statement “undeniable weight.” That report also said the counsel’s statement showed it viewed BuzzFeed’s story “as almost entirely incorrect.”
The BuzzFeed story in question is that “multiple witnesses” text messages from Trump Organization members, and Cohen himself would prove that Trump ordered illegal actions.
After Mueller’s office denied the report, media pundits and legal scholars struggled to offer an explanation.
Susan Hennessey, editor of Lawfare and a National Security Agency lawyer wrote that while it is difficult to parse the words of Mueller’s statement it is “extremely unusual for the Special Counsel’s office to issue a statement disputing a story and should be taken very seriously.”
Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesperson under President Barack Obama agreed, saying, ”You can spend hours parsing the Carr statement, but given how unusual it is for any DOJ office to issue this sort of on the record denial, let alone this office, suspect it means the story’s core contention that they have evidence Trump told Cohen to lie is fundamentally wrong.”
BuzzFeed stands by its report despite Mueller’s denial. Editor-in-chief, Ben Smith defended his journal’s publication of the story tweeting: “We stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it.”
He then went further to suggest the Special Counsel needs to make it clear what he is disputing.
Conservatives pounded the media last weekend following the counsel’s statement. The President called BuzzFeed’s publication a “very sad day for journalism, but a great day for our Country!”
Trump followed his first response with a reminder that “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!”
He also thanked Muller for coming with his statement.
Up till now, Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen has said he wants to testify in an open hearing before Congress. However, this past Thursday, his lawyer, Lanny Davis, said Cohen may not testify at all because of “fear.”
Lest anyone fool themselves that sources like BuzzFeed or CNN learned their lesson in this one, Eric Erickson of The Resurgent tweeted; “Lots of journalists rallying to BuzzFeed, which means they’ll learn nothing and the same reporters will do it all again.”
A prime example is the aforementioned Washington Post. Though it warned of jumping on stories too quickly, it was more strident in warning journalist not to be too cautious.
Blake Edwards of the Post wrote: “Just like we shouldn’t jump to too many conclusions about BuzzFeed’s report, we shouldn’t just assume it was completely botched based upon one denial, no matter how authoritative the denier.”
Forget that BuzzFeed has already said it stands be “the entirety of the story” and the special counsel called it “false.” While the mainstream press and Democrat congressman showed restraint when the story first hit, the Washington Post now cautions against being too careful.
Professor Jay Rosen of NYU says the best course of action with all such stories is to wait and see. He tweeted: “There’s missing information here, and until it comes out having an opinion is hazardous.”
A source told Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo: “BuzzFeed seems ‘so damn sure’, and I can’t tell if that’s real confidence because their sources are crazy good, or confidence because they know the implications of being wrong.”
And there is the problem. Someone needs to grab the reins of the horse that got before the cart.