What evidence? BuzzFeed fuels ‘Russiagate’ with bombshell report on Trump and Cohen

What evidence? BuzzFeed fuels ‘Russiagate’ with bombshell report on Trump and Cohen
A bombshell report from BuzzFeed accused President Donald Trump of directing his former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress – but was unable to provide any evidence to back the claim.

Buzzfeed’s Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier claimed to have proof President Trump directly instructed his longtime fixer and attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about plans to build a Trump Tower property in Moscow, plans that would have involved meetings and discussions with top-level Russian officials.

That Cohen lied in court is not news. The attorney pleaded guilty to the crime in November, telling a federal judge that the Trump company’s plans to build the property did not end in January 2016, as Cohen told a Senate Select Committee in 2017, but in June of that year. Cohen also admitted that he discussed traveling to Moscow with Trump, something he neglected to tell the committee.

However, BuzzFeed’s report now says that Cohen acted under direct orders from Trump, not simply “out of loyalty,” as he told the court in November. As so often is the case in articles linking Trump with Russia, no named sources are cited, only two anonymous “federal law enforcement officials.”

That was enough for ‘Russiagate’ advocates to pounce. Here, they said, was concrete proof that Trump sought to obstruct Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which was probing the Trump campaign team’s alleged – and still unsubstantiated – links with the Kremlin during the 2016 US presidential election.

House Intelligence Committee chair and Adam Schiff (D-California) said the allegation “is among the most serious to date,” and that Democrats will “do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true.”

House Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler (D-New York) chimed in. “Directing a subordinate to lie to Congress in a federal crime. The House Judiciary Committee’s job is to get to the bottom of it, and we will do that work.” Fellow committee member and outspoken Trump critic Ted Lieu (D-California) agreed.

There was just one tiny little problem. The journalists who wrote the piece apparently haven’t seen any actual evidence to back up their story.

Cormier told CNN on Friday morning that he had not seen any evidence personally, but claimed that his anonymous sources were “fully read in” to that part of the Mueller investigation.

He also told CNN that his sources went “beyond the two on the record,” and included more unnamed “individuals who know this happened.”

Leopold was cagey too, telling MSNBC that over the course of writing about the Trump/Moscow project, the two “have seen documents. We have been briefed on documents. We are very confident in our reporting," although he did not say whether these documents directly related to the latest story or not.

Anonymous sources are a staple of American journalism. While they were once considered more useful for giving ‘deep background’ detail, they have replaced actual hard documentary  evidence in the age of the Trump scoop. When the New York Times reported that a member of Trump’s cabinet was planning on wearing a wire to record the president and prove his unfitness for office, that piece relied on an anonymous source. Likewise, CNN was forced to retract an article linking Trump’s transition team with a Russian bank, after it emerged that the one anonymous source quoted was lying.

The BuzzFeed report was “categorically false,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters on Friday.

Trump’s supporters and media critics also heaped scorn on the BuzzFeed article. The president’s son Donald Jr. called it “the usual clickbait BS,” and former CIA officer and political commentator Bryan Dean Wright called it a “media show trial.”

Mueller's spokesman Peter Carr disputed BuzzFeed's report on Friday evening.

“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,” Carr told the outlet.

BuzzFeed was the outlet that actually published the so-called Steele Dossier in January 2017, containing uncorroborated and salacious allegations against Trump compiled by a British spy and paid for by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Its contents have never been corroborated.

Following the publication, Trump described the outlet as a “failing pile of garbage.”

Last October, a US Treasury employee was indicted for leaking secret documents to BuzzFeed. Though Leopold and Cormier were not named in the indictment, the articles mentioned therein – all feeding the ‘Russiagate’ narrative – bore their bylines.

BuzzFeed will either be vindicated or proven wrong when Mueller’s investigation finally wraps up, although no definite timeline for that end has yet been given. Meanwhile, Cohen is due to appear before the Democrat-controlled House Oversight Committee next month, where he will surely face questioning on any direction Trump may have given.

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