Buzzfeed blew up the internet and the news cycle when it released a bombshell that Michael Cohen was instructed by “President” Donald Trump to lie to Congress and that it was corroborated by evidence the Special Counsel’s office had in its possession.
In a rare statement, Robert Mueller’s spokesperson issued a carefully worded statement about the Buzzfeed article, stating: “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.”
Many used this to attack the Buzzfeed story in total, arguing that the thinly sourced article was laden with mistakes. But parse the statement by the spokesperson and it is clearly a soft denial of specificity: “specific statements” and “characterization of documents and testimony” “are not accurate.” So they’re not denying that Trump told Cohen to lie, only specific sources or characterizations. Why would they issue a statement? Could be manifold, and we don’t know for sure exactly what the statement refutes, and what it does not.
Buzzfeed pushed back immediately, asking the Special Counsel’s office to identify what they specifically disputed, with editor-in-chief Ben Smith asking Mueller to identify and “make clear what he’s disputing.” Buzzfeed stood behind the story, but also noted it is working hard to determine what exactly Mueller and Special Counsel dispute, if anything. Smith stated, “We are eager to know what [Mueller’s spokesman’s] talking about.”
As always, Rudy the “G(aga)-Man” Giuliani went on Twitter and likely elsewhere to argue this shows it is all a false story, and many Twitter “pundits” and talking heads also took to the airwaves to attack the story. What we should all do is take a deep breath and let everything settle.
Buzzfeed has scored some major stories in the last several months on a variety of administration matters, and the statement by Mueller’s office is not a full statement of falsity, but a very carefully worded, nuanced statement about specifics. We already knew Cohen lied to Congress, and we already suspect Trump is manipulative and coaxing (look at statements and tweets trying to intimidate Cohen or Stone or Flynn or you name your target). The statement by Special Counsel does not change the landscape, it just adds a little gray hue.