A damning article released by Buzzfeed claims that Michael Cohen lied about the Trump organization’s dealings regarding a property deal in Russia, at the direct behest of the president himself. The story was picked up and spread across the fertile soil of the legacy media in hopes of producing a crop worthy of impeachment. Until it was denied by someone who many regard to be a reliable source.
Just hours after the story came out, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office released a statement casting doubt on the veracity of the sources and the accuracy of the assessment. To call this move merely unprecedented is to diminish the reality of what has happened. Is this a signal that the Mueller investigation is reaching a conclusion? Or is it more smoke and mirrors designed to set a trap for the president?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Buzzfeed’s grand exposé is attributed to two “anonymous sources,” a method of reporting that has become far more prevalent in the Trump age. The most damaging claim made is that Donald Trump directly instructed Cohen, his former attorney, to lie to Congress under oath about the depth of his involvement in the construction of a Trump Tower building in Moscow.
A number of news organizations followed up on this claim, prefacing their own stories with the words “if true,” which is likely to become the most notable phrase of 2019. The use of this term allows reporters to engage in unchecked speculation and salacious gossip on the premise that they are writing hypothetically. It is the tool of the lazy and the cowardly.
Hot on the heels of this damaging article, Peter Carr, spokesperson for Mueller’s office, released a statement casting heavy doubts on the veracity of Buzzfeed’s claims:
“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.”
What begins now is the media “interpretation.”
Several Democrat lawmakers had already used the article as yet another excuse to call for the impeachment of President Trump; media outlets had already cast their predictions that this would be the smoking gun in what appears an otherwise fruitless investigation. They had already backed their pony … and now had to follow through.
What is “is”?
On MSNBC, Chris Matthews took it upon himself to make clear the term “inaccurate” does not mean false. In what may turn out to be one of the finest examples of doublethink this week, he said:
“It doesn’t mean it’s not true, it means … in certain iotas, it wasn’t quite true.”
Matthews also took the opportunity to suggest that Mueller’s office may have released their denial to cover up losing control over the corroborating documents.
The thrust of the Buzzfeed article, the main plank on which its credibility rests, is the claim that there are documents or messages that confirm Trump expressly ordered Cohen to lie about the timing of the Moscow deal. It is exactly this evidence of which Mueller’s office seems to be denying the existence.
Buzzfeed has managed to achieve two things with their latest attempt at journalism. First, they have discredited themselves as a news organization that can be relied upon (so little change there), and second, they have cast further doubt on the outcome of the special counsel’s final report.
While many had long hoped that Mueller’s investigation would lead to the eventual removal of Donald Trump from office, the fact that his spokesman is now fact-checking media groups could signify that they are about to wrap it all up and call it a day. Loose threads such as the “corroborating evidence” cited by Buzzfeed would cast doubts that Mueller had done a thorough job … and Mueller has a reputation to protect.
UPDATE: Buzzfeed is doubling down on its allegations:
“In response to the statement tonight from the Special Counsel’s spokesman: We stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it, and we urge the Special Counsel to make clear what he’s disputing.”