Smoking gun or jumped the gun? Buzzfeed’s recent maybe-maybe not “bombshell report” has people polarized, to say the least. Last Thursday, the publication unveiled their piece which claimed that President Donald Trump personally instructed his former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress during a 2017 testimony — an act which would obviously obstruct justice in the DOJ’s investigation into White House corruption. Come the very next morning, however, the special counsel’s office handling the investigation denied the veracity of the reporting.
The report, written by Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier, cited “two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation” into President Trump’s secret business deal to establish a Trump Tower Moscow (originally reported in 2017 by The Washington Post). Readers should understand there is evidence proving the existence of this deal, including a 2015 letter of intent signed by Trump and confirmation of the proposal from Trump Organization insiders, while conspiracy to commit perjury is the new scandal being debated on Capitol Hill.
On Friday, a public spokesperson for special counsel Mueller’s team released a short statement declaring: “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.” This is unprecedented considering the DOJ office routinely declines to comment on any reports surrounding the investigation.
So what do we know about the inaccuracy of their reporting exactly? Well, it’s important to understand that BuzzFeed’s cited evidence, unavailable for the public eye by design, consists of “interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents” that are only mentioned by the sources briefly, not described or reviewed for authenticity by BuzzFeed themselves — raising questions about whether their journalists can really know what they claim to.
This doesn’t exonerate the White House and their (former) associates. As noted in our previous report, Cohen did plead guilty to lying to Congress in November after being convicted for fraud and campaign finance violations. It’s safe to speculate that a convicted liar, earning his place on the Trump lackey payroll, committing perjury in order to protect his former boss wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility. Most people familiar with Trump understand his desire for administrative loyalty — especially when the deal was worth $300 million in potential profits for his company. The motivation is there.
“I think that the BuzzFeed piece was a disgrace to our country,” President Trump told White House reporters Saturday evening. “It was a disgrace to journalism, and I think also that the coverage by the mainstream media was disgraceful, and I think it’s going to take a long time for the mainstream media to recover its credibility. It’s lost tremendous credibility. And believe me, that hurts me when I see that.”
Arguably, such circumstances only help the president’s narrative. It’s not hard to see how bad journalism can be used to bolster the meme of the “fake news” being “the enemy of the people.” The faults of the media, until corrected, only strengthens Trump’s image among his supporters — which makes BuzzFeed’s response all the more disastrous. Instead of admitting mistakes, issuing retractions until obtaining proper evidence or firing reporters for debatable errors, BuzzFeed is choosing to stand by their article entirely by telling their audience they should take a leap of faith and trust the publication will be proven right in the future.
“As we’ve reconfirmed our reporting,” said Matt Mittenthal, a spokesman for the BuzzFeed News, “we’ve seen no indication that any specific aspect of our story is inaccurate. We remain confident in what we’ve reported, and will share more as we are able.” He was joined by editor-in-chief Ben Smith who added: “We stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it, and we urge the Special Counsel to make clear what he’s disputing.”
This question, exactly like BuzzFeed’s sources and the specific content of these documents, remains a mystery worthy of skepticism. Should it need explaining why reporters need to read these incredible documents before accusing someone of an incredible charge? Even other mainstream media outlets such as The Washington Post and CNN, known for their own laughable mistakes on the Trump-Russia story, admitted they were unable to independently verify the report’s sources and claims, opting to note the accusatory article exists and explaining the details of the Moscow deal. Cohen, who’s reportedly not one of the sources for the story, refused to comment on the article following the special counsel’s statement, according to his legal and communications adviser Lanny Davis.
Democrats haven’t stopped capitalizing on obstruction, however. Days before its publication, Trump’s attorney general nominee William Barr testified that ordering someone to lie to Congress would constitute a crime, agreeing with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that “persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction.” Barr also wrote this in a memo to the DOJ months before Trump nominated him as the new attorney general. By the standards set by the president’s own team, he would be committing a crime if the report was true. The problem is that no one can be sure that BuzzFeed has the smoking gun to prove it.