One of the stories I didn’t link to yesterday was a Buzzfeed piece that only broke on Thursday, but by the time I was working on the Friday Five Thursday night, I had seen so many people link to it or re-reported it that it felt both like old news or at least something that everyone saw, so I didn’t link. Let me remedy that because late Friday a boatload of new developments happened: President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project.
I should also admit that, besides seeing so many links to it throughout Thursday, it also just feels like a headline you’ve already read, right? I mean, didn’t we already know this? Except we didn’t know this one, and if a fraction of the details are right, it’s a bigger deal than some of the other well-documented lies and corrupt acts of the Alleged President: BuzzFeed’s Trump-Cohen Story Describes Clearly Impeachable Crimes- The tale of a presidential coverup is familiar — and troubling. This is different than most of the other things we’ve heard about this case because, if the story is correct, it is talking about things Trump did after taking office. If true, it also is a serious crime (and criminal conspiracy) regardless of whether the interactions of the Trump’s campaign organization with Russian officials rise to the legal definition of collusion.
Lying to Congress is a crime. Lying to Congress under oath is a serious crime. A government official (including by not limited to the President) instructing someone else to lie to Congress under oath is a crime. Doing so for the explicit purpose of obstructing one or more criminal investigations (and remember, Mueller’s office is not the only one investigating various possible criminal activities surrounding these events) is a serious crime.
Of course, supporters of the Alleged President got what they think is vindication Friday night (and even he thinks it is, because of course he’s tweeted about it already): Special counsel office: Parts of Buzzfeed article tying Trump to Cohen’s lies to Congress are not accurate. Oh, well, in that case, never mind, right?
Well, no, because you need to both read the actual statement from the Special Counsel’s Office, and you need to think like a prosecutor when you do:
“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.”
Parse that like a lawyer and you realize that all the Special Counsel’s Office is saying is that 1) the don’t have all the details right, and 2) there are nuances or details which the article omits or misinterprets.
It is not a repudiation of the core of the story: Here’s What Legal Experts and Former Gov’t. Officials Say Mueller’s Statement on the Buzzfeed Story Means. In other words, what the Special Counsel’s Office is saying is that parts of the story are right, parts are wrong, but they can’t tell us which parts are without revealing information that would compromise the current investigation.
Buzzfeed has since responded that they stand by their story. The speculation is that someone in one of the other prosecuting offices has leaked this information. I mentioned above that Mueller’s office isn’t the only one, right? We know that the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York is also investigating many of these things, because they have been filing joint motions to federal judges regarding sentencing and so forth of a bunch of the conspirators who have already either pled guilty or been indicted. We know that prosecutors in Germany are investigating some aspects because of raids they have conducted on bank offices and such over there, and the public warrants filed in conjunction with those raids. There is a strong suspicion (but less public proof) that state prosecutors in New York are also conducting a parallel investigation. There are hints in some of the other activities that numerous other state prosecutors have been given information relevant to state crimes that the Special Counsel’s Office as uncovered—this is not unusual for federal investigators, when finding evidence of crimes that they can’t pursue in federal courts to refer that information to the jurisdictions that can prosecute the crimes.
So it is very possible that someone in one of these other offices, for whatever reason, decided to leak the information to the press. One possibility is that several of the statements made this week by the Attorney General nominee have made it seem likely that he will let Mueller complete his investigation, but then not pass the report on to Congress, instead writing his own summary report. This could make law enforcement officials believe that the information is never going to reach Congress or the public unless someone leaks some of it and gets enough people looking into it that it becomes impossible for a corrupt Attorney General to suppress.
This, by the way, was the motivation that led an FBI official named Mark Felt to start passing information about crimes committed on Nixon’s behalf to two reporters for the Washington Post. Those leaks eventually led to the Watergate investigation and created enough public furor that Nixon resigned from office before Congress could impeach him. For many years, the two reporters refused to reveal the name of their source of secret information, referring to him only as Deep Throat.
This raises the question, why would Mueller say anything at all about it, if it wasn’t his office that leaked it? My guess is two reasons. First, he probably believes that he has already set up enough contingencies against interference from a new Attorney General that the investigation’s results will reach the public. Second, he is very angry at whoever did leak it, even though he isn’t sure who did the leaking. He isn’t worried that the information he gathers won’t eventually become public (because of his contingencies) but he is worried that a spooked Alleged President will find another way to shut down the investigation before he finishes.
So, issuing this statement calms Cadet Bonespur down, giving him reason to tweet about how even Mueller agrees with him the Buzzfeed is wrong. And buys Mueller a bit more time.
Which makes me suspect that he is really, really close to nailing down irrefutable evidence on something. He’s got a lot of people who have been found or had pled guilty to all sorts of things already, which means he’s got a lot of thumbscrews being twisted to flush out more evidence.
It might be time to break out the popcorn soon!