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Special Counsel Mueller's Office Says 'Buzzfeed' Report Is 'Not Accurate'

Jan 18, 2019
Originally published on January 18, 2019 8:50 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

If you have spent any time at all following special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, you may know this. He doesn't talk. His shop almost never says anything on the record. They do not weigh in on the avalanche of news reports dropping nearly every day about President Trump and Russia. Well, Mueller's team broke that rule tonight with a one-sentence statement shooting down a report by BuzzFeed News, a report headlined "President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project."

All right, we're going to walk through this step by step with our White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Hey, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hello.

KELLY: So this BuzzFeed report blew up Washington today because if it is true, it would mark the first known example of President Trump explicitly telling someone he works for him to lie about his own dealings with Russia, right?

KEITH: And not just lie but lie to Congress. And Michael Cohen has already pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the Moscow Tower project. But this BuzzFeed report connected the dots and said that they had evidence and sources and that it - that Mueller's office had a whole bunch of documents and evidence that backed up this claim and not just the testimony of Michael Cohen, who is pretty unreliable as a narrator, having pled guilty to lying.

KELLY: And having changed his story a few times - OK, so which part of this exactly is the Mueller camp knocking down?

KEITH: Well, let me just read you the statement from Peter Carr. He's the spokesperson for the special counsel's office - the nearly silent spokesman up until now. The quote is, "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."

KELLY: And that's all we know. They're not saying what bits are not accurate and whether the overall story is holding up or not.

KEITH: Yeah, they aren't.

KELLY: OK.

KEITH: And my guess is that the silence of the Mueller team will resume and that we will be left to wonder why they are just disputing aspects of the story or whether they are saying the entire premise of the story is incorrect.

KELLY: I will insert in here BuzzFeed says it is standing by its story. Their editor-in-chief, Ben Smith, has tweeted that in response to this statement from the special counsel's spokesman - he says, we stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it. And they would like the Mueller team to make clear what exactly their disputing. Tam, what is the White House saying about all of this?

KEITH: Well, so the president has tweeted a lot. He hasn't actually tweeted his own words, but he has - since this statement from Mueller's office came out, the president has retweeted eight different times various statements from people, including from the RNC chairwoman, saying - she said that the entire premise of this story which received wall-to-wall coverage was based on evidence the reporters admitted they never even saw. I'm not clear that that is accurate either. But also Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, earlier today before that report came out very much disputed the BuzzFeed report.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Well, look; that's absolutely ridiculous. I think that the president's outside counsel addressed this best and said in a statement earlier today that it's categorically false.

KELLY: So where does this leave us...

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: ...Tam?

KEITH: Well, I think it leaves us where...

KELLY: Is this story wrong? Is it right? Do we know?

KEITH: I think that we should put a lot of weight in the fact that the special counsel's office does not issue statements. And they have chosen - they felt that they needed to issue a statement in this case, you know, in part because so many members of Congress - Democratic members of Congress were saying if this is true, then the president has committed a crime, and there needs to be a response. So now we have this, and we're back where we started, in some ways, waiting for Robert Mueller to reveal more of what he knows that none of us do know.

KELLY: NPR's Tamara Keith - thank you very much, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.