President Donald Trump personally directed his longtime former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the Moscow Trump Tower project, two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter told BuzzFeed.
The law enforcement officials told BuzzFeed that Trump directed Cohen to claim negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow ended months earlier than they actually did. The law enforcement sources told BuzzFeed that Cohen confirmed to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team that Trump issued the order to lie to Congress.
CNN has not corroborated the BuzzFeed report.
A day after the report published, Mueller’s office disputed it as “not accurate.”
“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,” said special counsel spokesman Peter Carr in a statement.
It’s highly unusual for the special counsel’s office to provide a statement to the media – outside of court filings and judicial hearings – about any of its ongoing investigative activities.
In response, BuzzFeed said in its own statement, “We are continuing to report and determine what the special counsel is disputing. We remain confident in the accuracy of our report.”
Mueller’s office learned Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization, internal company emails, text messages and other documents, Buzzfeed reports.
When asked for comment, Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani initially told CNN, “If you believe Cohen I can get you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge.” He offered a broader statement early Friday afternoon, saying “any suggestion – from any source” that Trump told Cohen to lie is “categorically false.”
“Michael Cohen is a convicted criminal and a liar. To quote the prosecutors, he has traded on ‘a pattern of lies and dishonesty over an extended period of time’ and for that ‘he is going to pay a very, very serious price.’ Today’s claims are just more made-up lies born of Michael Cohen’s malice and desperation, in an effort to reduce his sentence.”
Friday night, Giuliani praised Mueller on Twitter for issuing the disputing statement, and accused the press of showing bias against Trump in its coverage of the BuzzFeed report.
Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman, similarly dismissed Cohen’s credibility in response to reporters’ questions Friday morning.
Cohen declined to comment to BuzzFeed, as did a spokesperson for the special counsel’s office.
Trump supported a plan to personally visit Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, BuzzFeed reports, to personally meet with President Vladimir Putin to negotiate. According to BuzzFeed, Trump said to Cohen, “Make it happen.”
Democrats called for further investigation of the allegations, with Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, saying the allegation was “among the most serious to date.”
“We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true,” he tweeted Thursday.
Eric Holder, former attorney general under President Barack Obama, tweeted early Friday morning on Buzzfeed’s report: “If true - and proof must be examined - Congress must begin impeachment proceedings and Barr must refer, at a minimum, the relevant portions of material discovered by Mueller. This is a potential inflection point.”
The law enforcement sources familiar with Cohen’s testimony to Mueller’s office told BuzzFeed that the President, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. received regular, detailed updates from Cohen about the Moscow project.
A spokesperson for Ivanka Trump’s attorney told CNN in a statement she was “only minimally involved” in the project.
“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,” Peter Mirijanian told CNN in the statement.
In September 2017, Trump Jr. testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee and was asked if he had any involvement in the potential project.
“I was peripherally aware of it, but most of my knowledge has been gained since as it relates to hearing about it over the last few weeks,” he said, according to a transcript of the interview.
CNN previously obtained a document showing Donald Trump had signed a letter of intent to move forward with negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Russia, despite Giuliani initially claiming the document was never signed. After the report, Giuliani admitted he was incorrect and told CNN, “I probably meant to say there was never a deal, much less a signed one.”
CNN has previously reported the project would’ve given Trump’s company a $4 million upfront fee, no upfront costs, a percentage of the sales and control over marketing and design. The deal also included an opportunity to name the hotel spa after Ivanka Trump.
Cohen pleaded guilty in November to making false statements to Congress about the Russia investigation. While pleading guilty, Cohen said he and Trump had spoken more extensively about the propose Moscow Trump Tower project during the 2016 presidential election than he had admitted to Congress.
Cohen previously said talks about the Moscow project had ended in January 2016. He said he lied out of a sense of obligation to Trump.
Cohen’s guilty plea revealed Cohen had been soliciting help from officials in the Russian government at a time when then-candidate Trump was praising Putin and disavowing any suggestion he was seeking to do business in Russia. On plenty of occasions throughout the campaign, Trump declared that he had “nothing to do with Russia.”
Cohen is cooperating with Mueller and has spoken with the special counsel’s office for more than 70 hours on topics beyond the proposed Moscow project, a source with knowledge of the discussions told CNN.
This story has been updated to include a statement from the special counsel’s office disputing the accuracy of the BuzzFeed report, along with BuzzFeed’s response.
CNN’s Poppy Harlow, Evan Perez, Kara Scannell, Katelyn Polantz and Marshall Cohen contributed to this report