A spokesman for Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued a rare statement Friday evening in response to a controversial BuzzFeed report that said President Trump instructed his longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the Moscow Trump Tower talks.
"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," spokesman Peter Carr said.
BuzzFeed published its report Thursday evening and cited two federal law enforcement officials involved in investigating the case. It also said that Mueller's office had corroborating evidence through witness interviews and internal communications from the Trump Organization.
The story also drew immediate harsh reactions from Democratic lawmakers. CBS News has not independently confirmed the BuzzFeed account.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Friday afternoon that the report was "absolutely ridiculous" and earlier called it "categorically false."
The BuzzFeed report also said Mr. Trump backed a plan Cohen set up to visit Russia during the presidential campaign to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the tower negotiations. The sources said Mr. Trump and his children, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., got "regular, detailed updates" on the development from Cohen, who led the project for them.
BuzzFeed News Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith tweeted Friday saying the site stands by its reporting. "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," Smith said.
In November, Cohento one count of making a false statement to Congress regarding work he did on the Moscow Trump Tower push. The plea indicated that discussions extended much longer into the 2016 presidential campaign than Cohen had said — into June 2016.
In a statement earlier Friday, Peter Mirijanian, a spokesperson for Abbe Lowell, ethics counsel for Ivanka Trump, said the Trump Organization considered projects around the world "and nothing was different or wrong about one that might be in Russia," but distanced the president's eldest daughter from the matter.
"Putting aside questions about the accuracy, credibility or motive of the source, over the years, The Trump Organization considered and evaluated projects in countries all around the world, and nothing was different or wrong about one that might be in Russia," Mirijanian said. "However, Ms. Trump did not know about this proposal until after a non-binding letter of intent had been signed, never talked to anyone outside the organization about the proposal, never visited the prospective project site and, even internally, was only minimally involved. Her role was limited to reminding Mr. Cohen that, should an actual deal come to fruition (which it did not) the project, like any other with the Trump name, must conform with the highest design and architectural standards and to recommending prospective architects to consider."
Bill Barr, the president's nominee for attorney general, testified on Capitol Hill earlier this week - in hypothetical terms - that if a president orders someone to commit perjury, that would constitute obstruction.
"In your memo ... you wrote on page one that a president persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction, is that right?" Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked, referring to an unsolicited memo Barr wrote the Justice Department about the Mueller investigation.
"Yes," Barr responded.
Democrats were quick with scathing words about the allegations in BuzzFeed's account.
Among them: Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, who tweeted, "If the @BuzzFeed story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached."
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, of California, released a statement saying, "These allegations may prove unfounded, but if true, they would constitute both the subornation of perjury as well as obstruction of justice. Our committee is already working to secure additional witness testimony and documents related to the Trump Tower Moscow deal and other investigative matters." He said that the committee would "get to the bottom of this and follow the evidence wherever it may lead."