Mueller disputes report that Trump directed lawyer to lie

WASHINGTON (AP) — Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office on Friday issued a rare public statement disputing the accuracy of BuzzFeed News’ report that said President Donald Trump’s attorney told Mueller that the president directed him to lie to Congress.

BuzzFeed, citing two unidentified law enforcement officials, reported that Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about a Moscow real estate project and that Cohen told Mueller that Trump personally instructed him to lie about the timing of the project. The report said Mueller’s investigators learned about Trump’s directive “through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.”

The report said Cohen then acknowledged Trump’s instructions when he was interviewed by the Mueller team.

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Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen pleads guilty
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Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen pleads guilty
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 21: Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal attorney and fixer, exits federal court, August 21, 2018 in New York City. Cohen reached an agreement with prosecutors, pleading guilty to charges involving bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance violations. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
U.S. Deputy Attorney Robert Khuzami speaks to the media outside the the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Court House after U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen plead guilty to eight criminal counts in lower Manhattan, New York City, U.S. August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, center, exits from federal court in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. Trump's longtime lawyer and fixer�Michael Cohen�appeared in federal court Tuesday pleading guilty to federal charges stemming from hush payments to women who claimed to have had affairs with the president. Photograph: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 21: A crowd gathers before Michael Cohen, former lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, exits the Federal Courthouse on August 21, 2018 in New York City. Cohen admitted to violating federal campaign finance laws at the direction fo then-Presidential candidate Trump. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 21: A woman seen inside the Federal Courthouse before Michael Cohen, former lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, exits the Federal Courthouse on August 21, 2018 in New York City. Cohen admitted to violating federal campaign finance laws at the direction fo then-Presidential candidate Trump. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, leaves the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Court House in lower Manhattan, New York City, U.S. August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. Deputy Attorney Robert Khuzami walks to speak to the media outside the the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Court House after U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen plead guilty to eight criminal counts in lower Manhattan, New York City, U.S. August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, leaves the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Court House in lower Manhattan, New York City, U.S. August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. Deputy Attorney Robert Khuzami speaks to the media outside the the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Court House after U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen plead guilty to eight criminal counts in lower Manhattan, New York City, U.S. August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, leaves the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Court House in lower Manhattan, New York City, U.S. August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, leaves the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Court House in lower Manhattan, New York City, U.S. August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, arrives to his apartment building after attending the federal court in New York City, U.S. August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Robert Khuzami (R), Deputy US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaks to the press outside federal court on August 21, 2018 in New York, after Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer and fixer, pleaded guilty to eight counts, including fraud and campaign finance violations. (Photo by Don Emmert / AFP) (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 21: Michael Cohen, former lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, exits the Federal Courthouse on August 21, 2018 in New York City. Cohen reached an agreement with prosecutors, pleading guilty to charges involving bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance violations.(Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 21: Michael Cohen, former lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, exits the Federal Courthouse on August 21, 2018 in New York City. Cohen reached an agreement with prosecutors, pleading guilty to charges involving bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance violations.(Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 21: Police gather before Michael Cohen, former lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, exits the Federal Courthouse on August 21, 2018 in New York City. Cohen reached an agreement with prosecutors, pleading guilty to charges involving bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance violations. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 21: Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal attorney and fixer, exits federal court, August 21, 2018 in New York City. Cohen reached an agreement with prosecutors, pleading guilty to charges involving bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance violations. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, exits from federal court in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. Trump's longtime lawyer and fixer�Michael Cohen�appeared in federal court Tuesday pleading guilty to federal charges stemming from hush payments to women who claimed to have had affairs with the president. Photograph: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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The statement by Mueller’s office on Friday night doesn’t cite any specific errors, but the special counsel’s spokesman, Peter Carr, said, “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.”

Immediately after the statement was issued, Trump retweeted a post that said: “Sadly so many will never get the memo that it was fake!”

Buzzfeed spokesman Matt Mittenthal said: “We stand by our reporting, and we are working to determine what exactly the Special Counsel is disputing. Stay tuned.”

Democrats had earlier vowed to investigate whether the report was true, calling that possibility a “concern of the greatest magnitude.” House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., both said they would investigate the matter.

Any evidence that Trump directed a witness to lie to investigators would place him in the greatest political and legal jeopardy yet and confront him with allegations of the sort that led to the departure of one president and the impeachment of another.

The Associated Press had not independently confirmed the report.

Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said in a statement Friday that “any suggestion — from any source — that the President counseled Michael Cohen to lie is categorically false.” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the allegation “absolutely ridiculous.”

On Twitter Friday morning, Trump charged that Cohen was “Lying to reduce his jail time!”

Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying to Congress to cover up that he was negotiating the Trump Tower project on Trump’s behalf during the heat of his presidential campaign. The charge was brought by Mueller and was the result of Cohen’s cooperation with that probe.

He admitted that he lied when he told lawmakers he had never agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow project and when he said that he’d decided by the end of January 2016 that the “proposal was not feasible for a variety of business reasons and should not be pursued further.”

He was sentenced to three years in prison for crimes that included arranging the payment of hush money to conceal his boss’ alleged sexual affairs, telling a judge that he agreed time and again to cover up Trump’s “dirty deeds” out of “blind loyalty.”

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Robert Mueller
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Robert Mueller
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 28: Former FBI director Robert Mueller attends the ceremonial swearing-in of FBI Director James Comey at the FBI Headquarters October 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. Comey was officially sworn in as director of FBI on September 4 to succeed Mueller who had served as director for 12 years. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama applauds outgoing Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) director Robert Mueller (L) in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on June 21, 2013 as he nominates Jim Comey to be the next FBI director. Comey, a deputy attorney general under George W. Bush, would replace Mueller, who is stepping down from the agency he has led since the week before the September 11, 2001 attacks. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller applauds key staff members during a farewell ceremony held for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW HEADSHOT)
391489 03: U.S. President George W. Bush speaks during a conference as he stands with Justice Department veteran Robert Mueller, left, who he has nominated to head the FBI, and Attorney General John Ashcroft July 5, 2001 the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller stands for the national anthem during a farewell ceremony for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller (L) reacts to a standing ovation from the audience, Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole (C) and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (R) during Mueller's farewell ceremony at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller gestures during his remarks at a farewell ceremony held for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
FILE PHOTO -- U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (R) and FBI Director Robert Mueller speak about possible terrorist threats against the United States, in Washington, May 26, 2004. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller reacts to applause from the audience during his farewell ceremony at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 19: Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., right, and FBI Director Robert Mueller make their way to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on oversight of the FBI. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller (C) delivers remarks at a farewell ceremony for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Also onstage with Mueller are Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole (FROM L), U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, former CIA Director George Tenet and TSA Administrator John Pistole. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 15: (L-R) Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton attend the National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the U.S. Capitol May 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. Holder and other members of the Obama administration are being criticized over reports of the Internal Revenue Services' scrutiny of conservative organization's tax exemption requests and the subpoena of two months worth of Associated Press journalists' phone records. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Federal Bureau of Investigation oversight on Capitol Hill in Washington June 13, 2013. Mueller said on Thursday that the U.S. government is doing everything it can to hold confessed leaker Edward Snowden accountable for splashing surveillance secrets across the pages of newspapers worldwide. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (L) welcomes FBI Director Robert Mueller during their meeting in Kiev June 5, 2013. REUTERS/Efrem Lukatsky/Pool (UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS)
FBI Director Robert Mueller (L) arrives for the Obama presidential inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol January 21, 2013 in Washington. President Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term as President of the United States. Woman at right is unidentified. REUTERS/Win McNamee-POOL (UNITED STATES)
WASHINGTON, : FBI Director Robert Mueller answers questions before Congress 17 October 2002 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Mueller was testifying before the House and Senate Select Intelligence committees' final open hearing investigating events leading up to the September 11, 2001. AFP Photos/Stephen JAFFE (Photo credit should read STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images)
(L-R) CIA Director Leon Panetta, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and FBI Director Robert Mueller testify at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 16, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
399994 02: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller visits the American military compound at Kandahar Airport January 23, 2002 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Mueller had lunch with FBI officials and Haji Gulali, commander of the Kandahar region. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller (L) stand during the National Anthem alongside Attorney General Eric Holder (R) and Deputy Attorney General James Cole (C) during a farewell ceremony in Mueller's honor at the Department of Justice on August 1, 2013. Mueller is retiring from the FBI after 12-years as Director. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
399994 01: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller greets American forces on the American military compound at Kandahar Airport January 23, 2002 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Mueller had lunch with FBI officials and Haji Gulali, commander of the Kandahar region. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 19: FBI Director Robert Mueller, center, talks with Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., right, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, talk before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on oversight of the FBI. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 06: OVERSIGHT HEARING ON COUNTERTERRORISM--Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, before the hearing. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
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Giuliani noted that Cohen had pleaded guilty to lying and quoted federal prosecutors in New York who chastised him for a “pattern of lies and dishonesty over an extended period of time.” Mueller’s team, however, has called him a credible witness.

“Today’s claims are just more made-up lies born of Michael Cohen’s malice and desperation,” Giuliani said.

Lanny Davis, a Cohen adviser, declined to comment.

Cohen is scheduled to testify publicly before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Feb. 7. The top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, said Friday that he expects Cohen to talk to that panel in February.

Though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has discouraged any talk of impeachment in the early days of her new majority, some senior Democrats said that if the BuzzFeed report is confirmed, Trump’s actions could rise to that level.

“If the @BuzzFeed story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached,” tweeted Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, a member of the House intelligence panel.

Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, also a Judiciary committee member, tweeted that if Trump directed Cohen to lie, “that is obstruction of justice. Period. Full stop.”

A Senate Democrat, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, tweeted that “we need to know this ASAP” if Mueller does have multiple sources confirming that Trump directed Cohen to lie.

“Mueller shouldn’t end his inquiry, but it’s about time for him to show Congress his cards before it’s too late for us to act,” Murphy tweeted.

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Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Zeke Miller in Washington and Jonathan Lemire and Jim Mustian in New York contributed to this report.

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