U.S. Congress to probe BuzzFeed report that Trump directed Cohen to lie

The Democratic chairs of two U.S. House committees pledged Friday to investigate a report that President Donald Trump directed his personal lawyer to lie to Congress about negotiations over a real estate project in Moscow during the 2016 election.

Key Democrat says he will 'do what's necessary' to confirm report

Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer for U.S. President Donald Trump, gets into an elevator at Trump Tower in 2016 in New York City. Trump told Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations over a real estate project in Moscow, a BuzzFeed News report claims. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

EDITOR'S NOTE: The U.S. special counsel's office has issued a rare public statement disputing the accuracy of BuzzFeed News's report that President Donald Trump told his personal attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.

The statement says: "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."

The Democratic chairs of two U.S. House committees pledged Friday to investigate a report that President Donald Trump directed his personal lawyer to lie to Congress about negotiations over a real estate project in Moscow during the 2016 election.

BuzzFeed, citing two unnamed law enforcement officials, said Trump allegedly directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress and that Cohen regularly briefed Trump and his family on the Trump Tower project in Moscow — even as Trump said he had no business dealings with Russia.

The report says Cohen told special counsel Robert Mueller that Trump personally instructed him to lie about the timing of the project in order to obscure Trump's involvement.

According to BuzzFeed, Mueller's investigators learned about Trump's directive "through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents." The report says Cohen then acknowledged Trump's instructions when he was interviewed by the Mueller team.

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said in a statement Friday that "any suggestion — from any source — that the President counselled Michael Cohen to lie is categorically false."

'Counterintelligence concern of the greatest magnitude'

House intelligence committee chair Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, said "we will do what's necessary to find out if it's true." He said the allegation Trump directed Cohen to lie in his 2017 testimony to Congress "in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date."

Calling the allegations a "counterintelligence concern of the greatest magnitude," Schiff said his committee had already been working to secure witness testimony and documents related to the Moscow Trump Tower deal.

The chair of the House judiciary committee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, said directing a subordinate to lie to Congress is a federal crime.

"The @HouseJudiciary Committee's job is to get to the bottom of it, and we will do that work," Nadler tweeted.

'Lying to reduce his jail time!'

On Twitter Friday morning, Trump charged that Cohen is "Lying to reduce his jail time!" even though Cohen has already been sentenced.

Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying to Congress in 2017 to cover up that he was negotiating the real estate deal in Moscow on Trump's behalf during the heat of his presidential campaign.

Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison for crimes that included arranging the payment of hush money to conceal his boss's alleged sexual affairs, telling a judge that he agreed time and again to cover up Trump's "dirty deeds" out of "blind loyalty."

White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley told Fox News Channel that taking the BuzzFeed story seriously was "absolutely ludicrous," but he repeatedly refused to deny the central allegation that Trump directed Cohen to lie.

Cohen's lawyer declines comment

The Associated Press has not independently confirmed the BuzzFeed report.

An adviser to Cohen, Lanny Davis, declined to comment on the substance of the article, saying that he and Cohen wouldn't answer questions out of respect for Mueller. Mueller is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and contacts with the Trump campaign.

Cohen is scheduled to testify before the House oversight and reform committee on Feb. 7, where he will likely be questioned about the report. It's unclear how extensively Russia will be discussed at the hearing, though, as House oversight and reform chair Elijah Cummings has said there will be "parameters" so the committee doesn't interfere with Mueller.

Though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has discouraged any talk of impeachment in the early days of her new majority, some senior Democrats said that if the BuzzFeed report is true, Trump's actions could rise to that level.

'That is obstruction of justice'

"If the @BuzzFeed story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached," tweeted Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, a member of the House intelligence panel.

Cohen stands behind Trump as a group of supporters lay hands on Trump in prayer in September 2016. Cohen is scheduled to testify before the House oversight and reform committee next month. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

California Rep. Ted Lieu, a member of the Judiciary committee, tweeted that it's time for that panel "to start holding hearings to establish a record of whether @POTUS committed high crimes."

Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, a member of the House judiciary committee, tweeted that if Trump directed Cohen to lie, "that is obstruction of justice. Period. Full stop."

'We need to know this ASAP'

A Senate Democrat, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, tweeted that Congress needs to know "ASAP" whether Mueller has multiple sources confirming that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress.

"Mueller shouldn't end his inquiry, but it's about time for him to show Congress his cards before it's too late for us to act," Murphy tweeted.

William Barr, Trump's nominee for attorney general, said at his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday that a president or anyone else who directs a witness to lie is illegally obstructing an investigation. That statement attracted attention given Barr's expansive views of presidential powers and his belief that presidents can't be scrutinized by prosecutors for acts the Constitution allows them to take.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.