Disputed BuzzFeed story on Trump and Cohen back in limelight after Mueller report contradicts

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By Allan Smith  with NBC News Politics
Image: Michael Cohen, former personal attorney to President Donald Trump, a
Michael Cohen, former personal attorney to President Donald Trump, arrives at the Capitol to testify behind closed doors on March 6, 2019.   -   Copyright  Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

Robert Mueller's report states that investigators were unable to establish that President Donald Trump "directed or aided" Michael Cohen's false testimony to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow dealings, putting a disputed BuzzFeed story back in the limelight.

In January, BuzzFeed reported that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress about those negotiations, citing "two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter," in order to minimize links between Trump and the proposed Moscow project. The report claimed Cohen was told to provide the false impression that talks on the proposed construction project ended before they actually did.

In what was an unprecedented statement from the special counsel's Office in response, Mueller spokesperson Peter Carr disputed the BuzzFeed report, saying its "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."

BuzzFeed stood by the story, which prompted some Democrats to call for impeachmentproceedings.

The Buzzfeed story on Jan. 17 began, "President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter."

But, while Mueller acknowledged there was evidence that Trump knew Cohen had provided Congress with false testimony about the Russian business venture, "the evidence available to us does not establish that the President directed or aided Cohen's false testimony."

In Mueller's report, it says that when Cohen was working on his statement to congressional investigators, which he provided in late 2017, the attorney "had extensive discussions with the President's personal counsel, who, according to Cohen, said that Cohen should not contradict the President and should keep the statement short and 'tight.'"

On Thursday, BuzzFeed spokesman Matt Mittenthal told NBC News the outlet had no comment regarding its story, adding that it was "still reading the report and reporting it out."

In his written answers to Mueller, Trump wrote he had "few conversations" with Cohen about Trump Tower Moscow — a project that did not ultimately come to fruition.

"As I recall; they were brief, and they were not memorable," The president said. "I was not enthused about the proposal, and I do not recall any discussion of travel to Russia in connection with it."

Late last year, Cohen pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress about the project, which he testified had ended in January of 2016, before the first primary votes were cast. Cohen admitted in his guilty plea that, in reality, those discussions continued into that summer and added that he was not truthful with congressional investigators because he wanted to be consistent with Trump's public pronouncements.

Cohen is soon set to begin a three-year prison sentence for a list of federal felonies he pleaded guilty to.