This January, Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier reported that 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. The sources said the president had personally instructed Cohen to tell Congress the negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did in order to obscure his involvement at the height of his presidential campaign, when he had repeatedly claimed he had no business in Russia.
The story was based on detailed information from senior law enforcement sources, including notes from an FBI interview of Cohen which said: “DJT personally asked Cohen to say negotiations ended in January and White House counsel office knew Cohen would give false testimony to Congress.” But soon after it was published, the office of the Special Counsel investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia issued a rebuttal. “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,” it said.
The following month, Cohen testified before a congressional committee that Trump “told” him to lie to Congress “in his way,” using a coded style of speech that he said was familiar from past interactions. Shortly afterward, Cohen’s attorneys sent a lengthy memo to lawmakers, including more than 100 pages of documentation, that stated Cohen’s false testimony was based on “Trump and associates’ overall and intense effort to persuade Cohen to commit crime of lying to congress.”
When Mueller released his final report in April, it found that Cohen had lied at what he believed to be the president’s behest, that the president knew he was giving false testimony, and that the president’s lawyers encouraged that testimony. Trump’s attorney told Cohen to “stay on message, and not contradict the President,” Mueller wrote. But the report concluded that the totality of the evidence “to us does not establish the president directed or aided Cohen's false testimony.”
As our editor-in-chief Ben Smith wrote in an update to the original story: “Our sources — federal law enforcement officials — interpreted the evidence Cohen presented as meaning that the president “directed” Cohen to lie. We now know that Mueller did not. There may still be more to learn about the evidence that was gathered, what was and was not included in the report, and how those final determinations were made. As part of that effort, BuzzFeed News has filed more than two dozen Freedom of Information Act requests relating to the Mueller investigation.”