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Robert Mueller's report states that investigators were unable to establish that President Donald Trump "directed or aided" Michael Cohen's false testimony to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow dealings, putting a disputed BuzzFeed story back in the limelight.
In January, BuzzFeed reported that Trump had directed Cohen to lie to Congress about those negotiations, citing "two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter," in order to minimize links between Trump and the proposed Moscow project. The report claimed Cohen was told to provide the false impression that talks on the proposed construction project had ended before they actually did.
In an unprecedented response from Mueller's office, spokesperson Peter Carr disputed the BuzzFeed report, saying its "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 stood by the story, which prompted some Democrats to call for impeachment proceedings.
The BuzzFeed story on Jan. 17 began, "President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter."
But, while Mueller acknowledged there was evidence that Trump knew Cohen had provided Congress with false testimony about the Russian business venture, "the evidence available to us does not establish that the President directed or aided Cohen's false testimony."
In Mueller's report, it says that when Cohen was working on his statement to congressional investigators, which he provided in late 2017, the attorney "had extensive discussions with the President's personal counsel, who, according to Cohen, said that Cohen should not contradict the President and should keep the statement short and 'tight.'"
Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith published a response Thursday night in which he made public what he said were notes from the publication's sources of an FBI interview with Cohen. One of them wrote, "Cohen told OSC (Mueller's office) he was asked to lie by DJT/DJT Jr., lawyers."
Smith said the sources permitted BuzzFeed to release their notes now that the Mueller report has been made public.
Smith wrote, "The facts of Cohen's lies and his interactions with Trump are, largely, now settled. Our sources — federal law enforcement officials — interpreted the evidence Cohen presented as meaning that the president 'directed' Cohen to lie. We now know that Mueller did not."
Last year, Cohen pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress about the project, which he testified had ended in January 2016, before the first primary votes were cast. Cohen admitted in his guilty plea that, in reality, those discussions continued into the summer of 2016 and added that he was not truthful with congressional investigators because he wanted to be consistent with Trump's public pronouncements.
Cohen is soon to begin a three-year prison sentence for a list of federal felonies he pleaded guilty to.