Buzzfeed News journalists have doubled down on the accuracy of a report that said President Donald Trump had directed his former lawyer to lie in testimony to Congress as part of the special counsel investigation concerning the president’s ties to Russia.
The report was published Friday and, based on information from federal law enforcement officials, said Trump had directed his former personal lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the timing of negotiations over a potential Trump Tower in Moscow.
The report prompted an unprecedented response from special counsel Robert Mueller, whose office Friday issued a public statement disputing the accuracy report, though his office didn’t specify which points he was questioning.
On CNN’s “Reliable Sources” Sunday, BuzzFeed Editor in Chief Ben Smith and investigative reporter Anthony Cormier doubled down previous statements that the story is “accurate.”
“I have further confirmation that this is right,” Cormier told host Brian Stelter “We’re being told to stand our ground. This is — our reporting is going to be borne to be accurate and we’re 100 percent behind it.”
Smith had previously tweeted after the special counsel’s office released the statement of rebuttal to defend the reporting.
Vice President Mike Pence Trump’s top attorney Rudy Giuliani waved off the widespread response to what he called a “phony” report, which he described as “hysteria” among the media covering the investigations into the Trump administration.
Other outlets scrambled, but were unable to, independently verify the report as Trump took aim at it as a hit to the media’s overall credibility, dubiously connecting negative coverage with accuracy.
Senior Democrats spoke out almost immediately to call for further investigation and possibly impeachment if the BuzzFeed report was confirmed.
“If the @BuzzFeed story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached,” House Intelligence member Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro tweeted Friday.
Democrat Rep. Jim Clyburn defended the reports’ value and rejected Republicans’ characterization that Democrats had overreacted to the report, saying that lawmakers had specified the assumption that the report was accurate when mentioning impeachment proceedings.
“When you preface your statement with ‘if this is true,’ that to me gives you all the cover you need,” Clyburn said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“If they had something as if it were true that would be one thing to be concerned about. But they’ve all said ‘if this is true.'”
California Rep. Adam Schiff, House Intelligence Committee chairman, said on “Face the Nation” Sunday that he would “absolutely” investigate the story’s claims, and would ask Cohen to appear “either voluntarily or if necessary by subpoena” before the committee.
“Congress has a fundamental interest…in getting to the bottom of why a witness who came before us lied, and who else was knowledgeable that this was a lie,” Schiff told host Margaret Brennan.
Though Pence didn’t comment on the report’s accuracy, he mounted the same offensive as Giuliani, describing the report as an attack by the media on the president that catered to partisan tensions.
“This was a week where I think the American people saw the hyper-partisanship among Democrats to assume the worst about this president,” Pence said. “And many in the national media’s willingness to assume the worst about the president.”
The report’s basis on anonymous sources seemed to fan the flames of Trump’s fiery responses to it, that repurposed his long-used refrains that aim to insult the media as the “enemy of the people” and claims that the use of anonymous sources, an avenue by which individuals can share information and mitigate fear of personal punishment, is a mark of “fiction.”