BuzzFeed came out on Thursday night with a scoop about the Robert Mueller investigation that has most pundits in agreement on thing: It's very bad news for President Trump, if it's true. The latter point is a crucial one, given that the report is based on two anonymous law enforcement sources. The story's allegation is that Trump instructed former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress in 2017 about efforts to build a condo tower in Moscow. Democrats are demanding an investigation, and some have begun using the "impeach" word, reports the Washington Post. But conservative critics are going after not only the credibility of Cohen but of BuzzFeed. Details and developments:
- Trump's reaction: The president didn't directly respond to the report, but a morning tweet took aim at Cohen's credibility. In it, he quoted Fox News' Kevin Corke as saying, "Don't forget, Michael Cohen has already been convicted of perjury and fraud, and as recently as this week, the Wall Street Journal has suggested that he may have stolen tens of thousands of dollars." The president added: "Lying to reduce his jail time!"
- Not just Cohen: The BuzzFeed report says Mueller isn't relying solely on Cohen's assertion that Trump asked him to lie. Mueller reportedly has emails and texts from the Trump Organization and interviews with multiple witnesses to corroborate.
- If true: Aaron Blake of the Washington Post emphasizes two big caveats: the use of anonymous sources and the fact that Cohen's team hasn't confirmed. But if the report is true, "it could present something that's been missing thus far from the public domain: an event so cut-and-dried that even Republicans would be hard-pressed not to consider impeachment."
- Ditto: "It's hard to overstate what a big deal that is," writes Chris Cillizza at CNN. "No other major outlets have confirmed the BuzzFeed report. But if the BuzzFeed report is right, then the President of the United States directed an underling to lie under oath—which is, in and of itself, a crime." Trump's own attorney general nominee, William Barr, has said as much, notes Axios, referring to a 2018 memo in which he wrote, "[I]f a a President knowingly ... suborns perjury, or induces a witness to change testimony ... then he, like anyone else, commits the crime of obstruction."
- The reporters: One of the BuzzFeed reporters, Anthony Cormier, appeared on CNN and acknowledged that he hadn't personally seen the evidence behind the allegation, reports Mediaite. But "the folks we have talked to—two officials we have spoken to are fully, 100% read into that aspect of the special counsel's investigation," he said, the "we" referring to himself and fellow reporter Jason Leopold.
- But wait: Leopold went on MSNBC and said this: "I'll just say that we've seen documents, we've been briefed on documents. We're very confident in our reporting." Right-wing site Twitchy was rounding up tweets calling out this apparent discrepancy about whether they had seen evidence firsthand.
- Previous fail: CNN's Alisyn Camerota asked Cormier about a 2006 story Leopold wrote that had to be retracted. It falsely stated that Karl Rove had been indicted. "His stories didn't wash," said Camerota. But Cormier responded that the new story is "rock solid" and that he personally "confirmed and verified" it with sources beyond the two mentioned in the story.
- Full of holes? The Conservative Review rounds up all of the criticisms of the story thusly: "The BuzzFeed story bases its main claims on hearsay and conjecture. The reporters who wrote the piece admitted that they did not see any of the evidence, and there are no on-the-record sources to verify these claims. It also relies on the hearsay of a convicted criminal liar. The piece would not meet the editorial standards for publication at Conservative Review."
- But no denial: Deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley also went after BuzzFeed on Fox News. "This is absolutely ludicrous that we are giving any type of prudence or credibility to a news outlet like BuzzFeed," he said. "They are irresponsible, responsible totally and completely for the publishing of [a] totally and completely false dossier." But as Politico notes, Gidley didn't appear to deny the actual allegation in the story.
- Conspicuous absence? The New York Times has been notably silent on the story, not following up with any of its own so far, writes Kyle Smith at the National Review. "To me that says the New York Times is skeptical about either this story in particular, or BuzzFeed in general, or both."
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