In a statement given on Saturday morning, President Donald Trump praised Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office for disputing a seemingly damning and incriminating BuzzFeed News report, according to Axios.
“It was a total phony story, and I appreciate the special counsel coming out with a statement last night. I think it was very appropriate that they did so, I very much appreciate that.”
Published on January 17, the report alleges that Donald Trump instructed his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen to lie to the United States Congress about negotiations to build a Trump tower in Moscow.
The damning report went viral almost instantly. Intense calls for impeachment and extensive cable news coverage followed. As reported by Vox, a slew of Democratic politicians suggested that the allegations made in report, if true, should lead to the resignation or impeachment of President Donald Trump.
Less than 24 hours later, in a rare public statement, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office reached out to Buzzfeed News, disputing the report.
“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,” a spokesperson for special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, Peter Carr, said.
But Carr’s statement was, apparently, not enough to put a bullet in the story. BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith urged the special counsel via Twitter to “make clear” what he is disputing, and cable news hosts — like MSNBC‘s Rachel Maddow, for instance — continued to insist, as Raw Story reported, that Mueller was not actually directly disputing the story.
The refusal to accept the special counsel office’s statements as a thorough rebuttal prompted two of the nation’s largest newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post, to try and independently confirm the BuzzFeed report.
To those trying to parse the Mueller statement: it's a straight-up denial. Maybe Buzzfeed can prove they are right, maybe Mueller can prove them wrong. But it's an emphatic denial https://t.co/EI1J7XLCJe— Devlin Barrett (@DevlinBarrett) January 19, 2019
Citing individuals briefed on the matter, the Washington Post wrote that Mueller’s denial is indeed aimed at the full story. The statement “aims to make clear that none of those statements in the story are accurate,” according to the Post‘s sources.
“The New York Times has not independently confirmed the BuzzFeed report,” wrote the NYT, seemingly putting the final nail in the coffin of BuzzFeed News‘ viral story.
Predictably, the news organization’s failure to substantiate its claims and Robert Mueller’s subsequent denial of the allegations prompted Donald Trump to boast on social media. Trump took to Twitter to slam “fake news” media again, describing BuzzFeed‘s coverage as “disgraceful.”
Fake News is truly the ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 19, 2019
Many people are saying that the Mainstream Media will have a very hard time restoring credibility because of the way they have treated me over the past 3 years (including the election lead-up), as highlighted by the disgraceful Buzzfeed story & the even more disgraceful coverage!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 19, 2019
BuzzFeed News’ reckless reporting is being criticized from the left as well. Pulitzer prize-winning reporter Glenn Greenwald wrote on Twitter that journalistic failures like BuzzFeed‘s “feed the perception that journalism can’t be trusted.”
I have a lot of respect for @BuzzFeedBen & what he's done as an editor. BuzzFeed has long done serious, great reporting. But multiple media outlets have gotten huge Trump/Russia stories wrong & rank-closing among journalists feeds the perception that journalism can't be trusted.— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 19, 2019
Similarly, progressive journalist Michael Tracy opined via Twitter that the fact that journalists “keep discrediting themselves” is not good for democracy, weighing in on the state of the American media culture.
On a serious note: a vibrant, thriving journalism industry is a vital check on power in this country. That they keep discrediting themselves in such spectacular fashion is horrible for democracy. There is something seriously, catastrophically wrong with media culture right now.— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) January 19, 2019
Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen was sentenced in December to three years in prison for crimes including hush money payments allegedly made on behalf of and at the direction of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. Cohen is set to testify before the House Oversight Committee on February 7, according to CNN.