Throughout the day Friday, many of the main characters in the story, including Cohen and Trump, speaking through their attorneys, declined to directly confirm or deny the claim that Trump directed Cohen to lie, instead focusing on peripheral aspects of the story.
Trump — a prolific user of Twitter who frequently uses his account to rail against opponents, issue policy and attack the Russia probe — did a victory lap of sorts on Friday, by retweeted a number of posts celebrating Mueller’s rebuke of the BuzzFeed article. On Saturday, Trump said he was grateful to Mueller for a statement disputing BuzzFeed’s report.
“I appreciate the special counsel coming out with a statement last night. I think it was very appropriate that they did so,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “I think that the BuzzFeed piece was a disgrace to our country. It was a disgrace to journalism.”
It constituted a sharp turnabout by the president and his defenders, who have denounced the special counsel’s probe as a “witch hunt,” and attacked Mueller himself in unusually personal terms.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, attacked Cohen’s credibility, saying that he wanted to sell the “Brooklyn Bridge” to anyone who believed Cohen. One of the authors of the report, Anthony Cormier, had told CNN Friday morning that he was “100 percent” confident in his sourcing. BuzzFeed tweeted later Friday that the roots of the story stretched back over a year.
For Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, the special counsel’s statement presented an opportunity to attack the media at large. “So sad that so many journalists have lost their integrity,” Parscale tweeted Friday.
Much like the original story amounted to a political spear for Democrats to wield against the president, Friday night’s special counsel statement represented a political gift to Trump and his reelection campaign, giving fresh fodder to the well worn narrative that stories unfavorable to the president are “fake” and that the news media is “biased” against the Trump administration.
The report documented some of the most serious allegations made against Trump and Cohen since Mueller began his probe of Russian meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.
The report cited two law enforcement officials and also cited “multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.” In addition to the charge that Cohen lied to Congress at Trump’s direction, the law enforcement officials alleged that Trump supported Cohen’s plan for him to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin during the 2016 campaign to discuss the Trump Tower proposal.
The BuzzFeed report also sparked widespread reactions from Congressional Democrats vowing to investigate the story’s central claims.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Friday that his committee will increase its efforts to investigate the aborted Moscow Trump Tower deal, while several other high-profile Democrats urged more hearings.
–Reuters contributed to this article.