Here's why Mueller's team reportedly made its unprecedented move to dispute a bombshell story on Trump and Cohen
- The special counsel Robert Mueller's team released a rare statement disputing a bombshell report that said President Donald Trump ordered Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.
- The unprecedented statement fro Mueller's team came after his spokesman was caught off-guard by the extent of BuzzFeed News' report, according to The Washington Post.
- The Post reported that a BuzzFeed reporter hadn't mentioned in an email to Mueller's spokesman that the story would refer to specific evidence it said Mueller's team had obtained.
The special counsel Robert Mueller's team reportedly made the remarkable move to publicly dispute a BuzzFeed News article because the story went far beyond what Mueller's spokesperson, Peter Carr, had anticipated when the outlet first contacted him.
BuzzFeed's bombshell report alleged that President Donald Trump personally directed his longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about the proposed Trump Tower Moscow deal in 2017.The outlet said Cohen had told Mueller's office of Trump's alleged instructions, and the news article also said Mueller had learned of it through "interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents."
The Washington Post on Saturday cited emails from a BuzzFeed spokesman showing that BuzzFeed's reporter informed Carr that he was preparing a story "stating that Michael Cohen was directed by President Trump himself to lie to Congress about his negotiations related to the Trump Moscow project."
When Carr received the email, he sent a response saying, "We'll decline to comment."
But he was caught off guard when the story mentioned specific evidence Mueller's team had reportedly obtained and Cohen's conversations with the special counsel's office, according to The Post.
That, as well as mounting calls from Democrats to impeach Trump in response to the story, reportedly prompted Mueller's office to take the unprecedented step of disputing BuzzFeed's story on the record.
"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," spokesman Peter Carr said.
BuzzFeed did not immediately respond to INSIDER's request for further comment.
The statement was unprecedented - Mueller's team is renowned for being tight-lipped about its investigation and declining to comment on most stories.
A BuzzFeed spokesman said earlier on Saturday that the outlet was still confident in its original report.
"As we've reconfirmed our reporting, we've seen no indication that any specific aspect of our story is inaccurate. We remain confident in what we've reported, and will share more as we are able," spokesman Matt Mittenthal said.
Legal scholars didn't mince words when discussing the gravity of Mueller's statement Friday.
"Difficult to parse each and every word here, but it is extremely unusual for the Special Counsel's office to issue a statement disputing a story and should be taken very seriously," wrote the former National Security Agency lawyer and Lawfare editor Susan Hennessey.Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesperson under President Barack Obama, echoed that view.
"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, suspect it means the story's core contention that they have evidence Trump told Cohen to lie is fundamentally wrong," Miller wrote.
BuzzFeed's statement standing by the story could indicate that "the truth lies in the middle," Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the Justice Department, told INSIDER.
"BuzzFeed went too far on the corroboration? Maybe no docs to support allegations? Story seemed to take on a life of its own today so that could be why Mueller [issued] an unusual statement," he said.
Another former senior Justice Department official who worked closely with Mueller at the FBI told INSIDER the special counsel would only release a statement like Friday's if the main thrust of the story was inaccurate.
Whatever the case, Mueller was in the unique position this weekend of receiving support from both Trump's critics and his allies.