Now that the special counsel’s office has taken the rare step of disputing a news report about its investigation, BuzzFeed is challenging the special counsel to be more specific.
“We stand by the reporting in this story,” BuzzFeed News editor in chief Ben Smith said on “Anderson Cooper 360” Friday evening.
“We spoke to, as we described in the story, two federal law enforcement officials involved in the investigation – we’re not playing any games with that characterization – who told us that the president directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress,” Smith said.
He described the special counsel’s push-back as “vague,” and said, “We really urge the special counsel to make it clear what he’s disputing.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office has not responded to Smith’s call for more information.
The explosive BuzzFeed report came out around 10 p.m. on Thursday. It immediately had the whole political world talking. If the story turns out to be true, it means Trump asked Cohen to commit perjury, a federal crime and potentially impeachable offense. So far, no other news outlet, including CNN, has been able to corroborate BuzzFeed’s report.
The White House and the President’s personal lawyers pushed back on BuzzFeed’s story throughout the day Friday.
Mueller’s office responded in the 7 p.m. hour on Friday and said: “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.”
BuzzFeed scrambled to respond, issuing a statement saying, “We are continuing to report and determine what the special counsel is disputing. We remain confident in the accuracy of our report.”
Smith said on “AC360” that “we’re really confident in these specific sources and in the story the reporters told.”
The reporters, Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold, are now following up with the two sources and others to gather more information, Smith said.
Smith also confirmed that he knows the identities of the two sources. Inside newsrooms like BuzzFeed’s, top editors are routinely involved in the source approval process for sensitive stories like this one.
Smith supported Cormier and Leopold, noting that they have been “reporting on the Trump Tower Moscow, which is at the heart of the Russia investigation, for months,” with significant scoops in the past.
With this latest story, “obviously these facts are true or they’re false, and we will all get to the bottom of this,” he said.
He called the special counsel’s action – disputing the story without getting into details – “just extremely confusing.”
Cooper asked, “Are you actually expecting them to make another statement to clarify?”
“I think that would be the responsible thing for them to do, yes,” Smith said.