01.22.2019 0

Mueller debunks Buzzfeed story that Trump told Cohen to lie to Congress, proving fake news is real

By Robert Romano

Citing “two federal law enforcement officials,” Buzzfeed made major headlines on Jan. 17 with its report that President Donald Trump had directed his former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about a project to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

The bombshell report led to multiple calls for impeachment by Democratic members of Congress and to wild speculation by mainstream news outlets that impeachment was now imminent.

It didn’t last long.

On Jan. 18, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office issued a statement by spokesperson Peter Carr debunking the allegations: “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.”

Now, with such an emphatic denial, one might think that would lead those predisposed to believe any negative story about Trump to be a bit more circumspect going forward.

Take Chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who jumped the gun on the Buzzfeed story on Jan. 17, writing on Twitter, “The allegation that the President of the United States may have suborned perjury before our committee in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date. We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true.”

After the Special Counsel’s office published a statement saying it was not true, that it was “not accurate,” Schiff doubled down in the interview saying he still would “absolutely” investigate the allegations in the Buzzfeed article.

Schiff went on to pretend there was still something to investigate, unsatisfied with Mueller’s denial, telling CBS News that, “We also know from the Special Counsel that [Cohen] has shared information about his communications with people associated with the White House during 2017 and 2018. Now it was that period in 2017 and 2018 that Michael Cohen was making false statements publicly and to Congress and initially to the Special Counsel about the Trump Tower deal, so there is a lot more to learn…”

One of the hallmarks of a conspiracy theory is that no matter how much evidence is produced proving that the theory is false, it is simply taken as more corroboration that it is really true.

This isn’t the first time Buzzfeed has gotten into hot water on the Russia story. Recall, in 2017, Buzzfeed was the first outlet to publish the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton-paid for dossier by former British spy Christopher Steele that elaborated on a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to hack the DNC and put the emails on Wikileaks. It included details, though, that have long since been disputed, like Michael Cohen supposedly travelling to Prague in the summer of 2016 to meet with Russian agents after the Wikileaks publication to clean up the fallout, something he denies to this day.

Now, arguably, Buzzfeed was breaking legitimate news, not that Trump and Russia had real ties, but that federal law enforcement was investigating those very allegations by Steele. It turned out that the Steele dossier had been used by the Justice Department to obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants against the Trump campaign. According to the original story, the dossier had been “circulating among elected officials, intelligence agents, and journalists for weeks.” That was true. The dossier was being circulated. And used.

It was the Steele dossier’s allegations that CNN had reported on Jan. 10, 2017 when it broke the Trump-Russia collusion story, which stated, “Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump, multiple U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN.” What was written was true. The classified documents were presented to Obama and Trump and did contain those allegations.

What was fake news was that the allegations themselves were never corroborated by the media, as if the existence of the investigation was enough to go on. The fact that the allegations were being pursued by law enforcement was taken as enough at the time to prove they were correct and begin to formulate conclusions off of, even though the investigation had not even been completed at the time and it turned out the Steele dossier was unverified, even by the FBI, something former FBI Director James Comey later confirmed in Congressional testimony.

That’s the true scandal.

The stories were clearly being pushed by federal law enforcement and Obama administration officials at the time. They wanted the story out there. It turned out to be propaganda, but the investigation was real enough.

Perhaps the Special Counsel issuing its statement is the first crack we’ve seen at the Justice Department in what appears to be a meaningful attempt to set the record straight. Matthew Miller, a former Director of the Office of Public Affairs for the Department of Justice, wrote on Twitter on Jan. 18, “You can spend hours parsing the Carr statement, but given how unusual it is for any DOJ office to issue this sort of on the record denial, let alone this office, [I] suspect it means the story’s core contention that they have evidence Trump told Cohen to lie is fundamentally wrong.”

But Mueller clearly still has a problem on his hands when, according to Buzzfeed, the source for the story that the Special Counsel says was “not accurate” were “two federal law enforcement officials” who apparently are desperate to pin Russia collusion and obstruction charges — or the appearance of collusion and obstruction — to President Trump.

The fact is these allegations continue to take on a life of their own thanks to the Justice Department which pushed this big lie to begin with. The Trump told Cohen to lie story is just the latest example. In the meantime, Justice Department and other government officials apparently continue to leak these stories to the press with impunity.

And the media keeps falling for it.

Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.

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