On Thursday night, the nation was rocked by a BuzzFeed News article that President Donald Trump had “directed” his then-lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. The article, which was not confirmed by another major news organizations as of Friday night, was huge in its significance: it implicated the president in obstruction of justice. However on Friday night, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office took the extraordinary (for them) step of offering an on-the-record dispute to the article.
Mueller’s office has been famously tight-lipped with just about every article about the probe featuring the spokesman, Peter Carr, declining to comment. The BuzzFeed article, from two reporters–Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier–known for their investigate journalism chops, also initially featured a decline of comment from the spokesman. On Friday night, Carr said in a statement, “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.”
Carr’s statement was notable not just for its existence, but also for its timing. First, it was released on a Friday night, a time when potentially damaging news is released so that it escapes the more attentive weekday news cycles. Second, it was released nearly twenty-four hours after the BuzzFeed article had been published. Within those twenty-four hours, the Administration and allies of the president issued non-denial denials and Democrats started using the i-word (impeachment) when discussing the President’s future. Democratic members of the House of Representatives (who, as members of the majority, now have the power to call investigations over these issues) started pledging to do their own investigation.
BuzzFeed News editor-in-chief Ben Smith said in a statement, “We stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it, and we urge the Special Counsel to make clear what he’s disputing.”
However before Carr’s dispute, there started to be questions about the BuzzFeed article. Cormier told CNN that he had not directly seen the document evidence and instead was going off of sources who had. However, Leopold later told MSNBC that they had seen some of the documents.