Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office is normally a tight-lipped operation that almost never releases any kind of comment. But on Friday night the spokesman for the special counsel issued a rare statement to challenge certain aspects of a bombshell BuzzFeed News report that claimed President Donald Trump had directed his lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress. “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 spokesman, Peter Carr, said in a statement. It appeared to mark the first time the special counsel had publicly challenged a news story.
The BuzzFeed piece had ignited Washington, with several lawmakers saying that if true, the news could be grounds to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump. After the special counsel’s statement, Trump quickly took to Twitter to retweet several posts that characterized the story as “fake news” and then tweeted that it was a “very sad day for journalism, but a great day for our Country!” He ended a series of tweets on the piece writing, “Fake News is truly the ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”
The president returned to the piece Saturday, writing that “the disgraceful BuzzFeed story & the even more disgraceful coverage” is an extreme example of how he has been treated badly by the “Mainstream Media.” Earlier, the White House had denied the report, with Sarah Huckabee Sanders calling it “absolutely ridiculous.”
Trump is known for his regular criticism of Mueller and his team but on Saturday he had nothing but praise for the special counsel. “It was a totally phony story, and I appreciate the special counsel coming out with a statement last night,” Trump told reporters. “It was very appropriate that they did so, I very much appreciate that.”
BuzzFeed was standing by its report Friday night. “We stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it, and we urge the Special Counsel to make clear what he’s disputing,” editor Ben Smith wrote on Twitter. In a statement, BuzzFeed said it remained “confident in the accuracy of our report.” No other publications have managed to independently confirm the story, which cites two unnamed federal law enforcement officials.
The New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch points out that Mueller’s statement doesn’t actually say the BuzzFeed story is false. “We can’t yet know if the BuzzFeed story is broadly true or false, only that the special counsel statement leaves that open,” Gourevitch wrote on Twitter.