21:02, January 18 170 0 abajournal.com

2019-01-18 21:02:05
Mueller’s office disputes report that claimed it had evidence Trump directed Cohn to lie to Congress

President Donald Trump, Michael Cohen and attorney general nominee William Barr.

Updated: In a rare public statement, the office of Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller said Friday evening that a report implicating President Donald Trump in obstruction of justice is not accurate.

A statement by Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr, who is detailed to the Office of Special Counsel, was reported by multiple news agencies Friday night.

“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 said, as reported by the Washington Post.

The original BuzzFeed report said Mueller has evidence that Trump directed his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

The article had led to a re-examination of attorney general nominee William Barr’s unsolicited memo on obstruction of justice. The initial focus was on Barr’s disagreement with the special counsel’s apparent obstruction investigation, but now the focus is on its reference to suborning perjury as classic obstruction, the Washington Post reports.

The original BuzzFeed report said Mueller has evidence that Trump directed his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. The story was based on information from two anonymous federal law enforcement officials.

According to BuzzFeed’s sources, Cohen acknowledged the directive to lie after the special counsel’s office already had gathered information about it from witness interviews, emails, text messages and a cache of other documents.

Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying to about the project to the Senate and House intelligence committees.

The BuzzFeed report says “attorneys close to the administration” helped Cohen prepare his testimony, but BuzzFeed’s sources did not present evidence that the lawyers knew the statements were false. A lawyer for former White House counsel Don McGahn said McGahn “had no involvement with or knowledge of Michael Cohen’s testimony.”

Earlier in the day before Mueller’s office released its denial, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, said his committee will investigate the allegations, report BuzzFeed News and the Washington Post. Some like former Attorney General Eric Holder said that the allegations, if true, would be grounds for impeachment.

BuzzFeed issued a statement standing by its work Friday night, saying “We are continuing to report and determine what the special counsel is disputing.”

The Post notes that any statement at all from the special counsel’s office is unusual. The office had never before made a statement regarding evidence in the investigation.

The Buzzfeed story prompted the Washington Post to take another look at Barr’s unsolicited June 2018 memo to the Justice Department in which he said Mueller was apparently “proposing an unprecedented expansion of obstruction laws” in his investigation of Trump.

The memo said that suborning perjury or inducing a witness to change testimony amounts to obstruction in the “classic sense.” Barr thought Mueller’s obstruction investigation appeared to be focusing on other alleged matters: Trump telling then-FBI Director James Comey he hoped he could let go of the investigation of his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Trump later firing Comey.

Investigation of the interactions with Comey would amount to “an unprecedented expansion of obstruction laws,” Barr wrote. Such an investigation would “reach facially lawful actions taken by the president in exercising the discretion vested in him by the Constitution.”

“Obviously, the president and any other official can commit obstruction in this classic sense of sabotaging a proceeding’s truth-finding function,” Barr wrote.

“Thus, for example, if a president knowingly destroys or alters evidence, suborns perjury or induces a witness to change testimony, or commits any act deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence, then he, like anyone else, commits the crime of obstruction. Indeed, the acts of obstruction alleged against Presidents Nixon and Clinton in their respective impeachments were all such ‘bad acts’ involving the impairment of evidence. … The president, as far as I know, is not being accused of engaging in any wrongful act of evidence impairment.”

Barr also confirmed his views on classic obstruction during his confirmation hearing to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat.

Updated at 7:46 p.m. throughout to add the statements from the Office of Special Counsel and BuzzFeed.