BuzzFeed Reports Trump Directed Cohen To Lie To Congress
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
And we begin this hour with the latest on a report by BuzzFeed that claims President Trump directed his then lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, specifically to lie about the timing of efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. The story raises questions about possible obstruction of justice. Neither NPR nor other news outlets have been able to confirm BuzzFeed's reporting, and now there are questions about some aspects of the story. Joining us for the latest is NPR's Ryan Lucas. Hello again, Ryan.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.
KELLY: Start with just a little more detail on what exactly the original BuzzFeed story alleges.
LUCAS: Well, what the story alleges is that Michael Cohen told special counsel Robert Mueller that Trump personally instructed Cohen to lie about the project - this real estate project in Moscow - and say that it ended months earlier than it actually did. Remember; Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about this deal - about this project in Moscow. He told lawmakers that it ended in January when in fact these talks ran until December of 2016 - so late into the presidential campaign.
Now, the point of the lie, BuzzFeed says in its story, was to hide Trump's involvement in this project. And there's another interesting part of the BuzzFeed report. It says that investigators have corroborating evidence to back this up. That includes, BuzzFeed says, Trump Organization internal emails, text messages, other documents as well as witnesses. So if the report is true, it would be a big deal because it could amount to President Trump trying to get a witness to provide false testimony, and that would be a crime.
KELLY: So just to be clear, as you said, Michael Cohen had already pleaded guilty to lying. What this BuzzFeed story did that maybe moved the story along is lay out that the reason he lied was he was directed to do so by the president.
KELLY: That's what they're alleging, but now the special counsel's office is disputing at least part of this report. What is Bob Mueller's office saying?
LUCAS: Well, the spokesman for Mueller's office, Peter Carr, said in a statement that, quote, "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."
KELLY: Do we know what - which documents, which characterizations they say are not accurate?
LUCAS: We do not.
KELLY: That's all we...
LUCAS: That is the extent of the statement. And the fact that we got a statement at all from the special counsel's office is rare. This is generally a fairly tight-lipped operation.
KELLY: I was going to say that's remarkable. I can't think the last time I saw a statement from Mueller's office. Meanwhile, the White House is also denying this story.
LUCAS: That's right. The president pushed back on this early this morning. He tweeted out a quote from a Fox News commentator raising questions about Cohen's credibility as a witness. Trump added a dig of his own in there, accusing Cohen of lying to reduce his prison time. The president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, also denied it, said that it was categorically false and also took another dig at Cohen, basically saying the same thing that the president did - that Cohen is making these things up in order to save his own skin.
KELLY: So is BuzzFeed retracting?
LUCAS: There has been no indication at this point that BuzzFeed is retracting. Now, this is all coming out in the past half hour or so - that we have seen this pushback from the special counsel's office. So we'll see what BuzzFeed does with this.
KELLY: Early, early hours yet, OK - so where does this leave us? Michael Cohen is set to testify next month before the House Oversight Committee. That testimony just got really, really interesting.
LUCAS: It certainly did. And you know, this report from BuzzFeed generated a lot of attention on the Hill. Republicans were pretty silent. But we did see Democrats jump at it. The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, said earlier today that if the report is true, it would constitute obstruction of justice. The top Democrat on the House Judiciary, Jerry Nadler, said a similar thing. They both vowed to get to the bottom of this. They want to hear more from Michael Cohen.
As you mentioned, Cohen is going to be on the Hill next month, February 7. That will be in front of the House Oversight Committee. There are going to be a lot of questions for Cohen. This may just be added to the long list of stuff that lawmakers are going to want to ask him about.
KELLY: That's NPR's Ryan Lucas reporting. Thank you very much, Ryan.
LUCAS: Thank you.
KELLY: Happy Friday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.