Hell hath no fury like a fixer scorned.
As President Trump was settling in for the night at the White House Thursday, Buzzfeed News reported a blockbuster allegation by two unnamed law-enforcement sources: that Trump had instructed his onetime lawyer and hush-money bag man, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress in mid-2017 about a tower Trump had sought to build in Moscow.
A spokesman for Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III issued a statement late Friday afternoon throwing a bucket of cold water on the story — “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.” — but by that time half of the residents of the nation’s capital had already lost their minds over the story. So the damage had been done.
Cohen has, in fact, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the tower project. The point of the alleged cover-up was to conceal how Cohen had, on behalf of Trump’s real estate empire, continued to push the project — with the knowledge of the Trump organization — even after Trump won the Republican nomination for president in 2016.
The problem for Trump is that, once again, Cohen seems to have implicated him in a federal crime (although the statement from the special counsel casts that into doubt). And unlike the case of the payment to buy porn actress Stormy Daniels’ pre-election silence about a tryst she claims to have had with Trump, the law involved is much clearer than the murky waters of campaign finance rules. This time, the allegation is a straight-up conspiracy to deceive Congress and, potentially, obstruct justice.
Even a “unitary executive” fetishist would have to concede that a president cannot instruct people to tell lies in their sworn testimony and affidavits to lawmakers. That can’t be couched as an exercise of the regular powers of the office.
The moral of this story — OK, one of the morals of this story — is that if you’re going to have a lawyer handle your, umm, more sensitive negotiations and clean up the messes you leave behind, you really need to treat that person exceptionally well. Which is not how Trump rewarded Cohen for his loyalty.
Having spent years helping to steer Trump clear of trouble, Cohen has turned into an endless, slow-motion train wreck for the president. So naturally, Trump’s tweeted response to the Buzzfeed story was to attack Cohen’s credibility. He posted a quote from Kevin Corke, the White House correspondent for Trump-loving Fox News: “Don’t forget, Michael Cohen has already been convicted of perjury and fraud, and as recently as this week, the Wall Street Journal has suggested that he may have stolen tens of thousands of dollars....”
Added Trump, “Lying to reduce his jail time!”
But Cohen may not be the only one claiming Trump sought to conceal the truth about the Moscow project. Buzzfeed says Cohen wasn’t the source who revealed to investigators Trump’s alleged instruction that Cohen lie to Congress.
“The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents,” the piece states. “Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.”
Yet Trump is right about one thing here — someone with a documented history of lying is not the most credible source. But that description doesn’t apply to Cohen alone.
5:38 p.m.: This post was updated with a new statement from the office of the special counsel.