President Donald Trump thanked special counsel Robert Mueller’s office for disputing a BuzzFeed News report alleging that the president directed his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress.
“It was a total phony story, and I appreciate the special counsel coming out with a statement last night,” the president told reporters on the South Lawn on Saturday. “I think it was very appropriate that they did so. I very much appreciate that.”
Trump used the statement from Mueller’s office to condemn the media at large, stating that the “mainstream media has truly lost its credibility.”
“I think that the BuzzFeed piece was a disgrace to our country,” he added. “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.”
BuzzFeed News, meanwhile, stands by its reporting.
“As we’ve re-confirmed our reporting, we’ve seen no indication that any specific aspect of our story is inaccurate," Matt Mittenthal, the outlet's director of communications, said. "We remain confident in what we’ve reported, and will share more as we are able.”
The dispute stems from a BuzzFeed News investigatory report published late on Thursday that alleged that the president directed Cohen, formerly Trump’s personal lawyer, to lie to congressional investigators about a building project in Moscow. The report cited two federal law enforcement officials involved in the investigation and claimed that Cohen was told to provide the false impression that the construction project had ended before it actually had.
NBC News has not independently confirmed this report.
The story was out for nearly an entire day before a special counsel spokesman released a statement that said, “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.”
BuzzFeed News said in their story that Mueller’s office had declined to comment prior to the story’s publication.
The digital news organization has stated multiple times that its reporting remains sound, despite the pushback from the special counsel and the White House. Its editor-in-chief, Ben Smith, urged Mueller’s office to provide greater clarification on Friday.
“We stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it, and we urge the Special Counsel to make clear what he’s disputing,” Smith wrote on Twitter.
Mittenthal previously told the Associated Press that readers should “stay tuned.” The news organization, he said, would be working to figure out the special counsel’s issue with their reporting.
The comment from Mueller’s spokesman, Peter Carr, is significant, as the special counsel’s office rarely responds to journalists, despite the thousands of news reports about their investigation since they were formed in May 2017.
While the president praised the special counsel on Friday and Saturday for its statement, he and his supporters have previously challenged the office’s integrity for its role investigating the Russian government’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The office was formed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and he appointed Mueller, a former FBI director, to lead the investigation.
Trump’s former lawyer, Cohen, 52, pleaded guilty in federal court in November to one count of making false statements about the Moscow building project as well as a handful of unrelated financial crimes.
Cohen, who was sentenced to three years of prison, admitted that he told multiple significant lies to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence while testifying last year about Trump’s Moscow project.
One of those lies related to when Trump’s Moscow project ended, which he claimed concluded in January 2016.
BuzzFeed’s allegation that Trump had directed Cohen to lie about that project led numerous Democrats to call for further investigations into Trump's relationship with Russia. Many also called for the impeachment of the president if the report was accurate.
"If true — and proof must be examined — Congress must begin impeachment proceedings and Barr must refer, at a minimum, the relevant portions of material discovered by Mueller,” former Attorney General Eric Holder tweeted early Friday morning, referring to attorney general nominee William Barr. “This is a potential inflection point.”
Barr affirmed multiple times during his confirmation hearing this week that a president coaching someone on how to testify or lie in testimony would be obstructing justice, which is a crime.