Democratic leaders reacted with fury and demanded an investigation late Thursday following a new report that President Trump personally directed his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about the president’s push for a lucrative condo project in Moscow in the lead-up to the 2016 election.
The Thursday night report from BuzzFeed News cites two unnamed federal law enforcement officials who say Cohen acknowledged in interviews with the office of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III that the president directed him to deceive Congress about key facts linking Trump to the proposed deal in Russia. Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying under oath about those details.
Democrats said that if the report is accurate, Trump must quickly be held to account for his role in the perjury, with some raising the specter of impeachment.
“The allegation that the President of the United States may have suborned perjury before our committee in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date,” wrote Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true.”
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Friday morning, called the story “as serious as it gets.”
“If this is true, what it means is this is more evidence that the president has violated his oath of office," Deutch said. "If he told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, if he suborned perjury, this is as serious as it gets.”
Eric Holder, President Obama’s attorney general, tweeted that Congress should start impeachment hearings if the story is accurate.
“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,” he wrote.
“If the @Buzzfeed story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached," tweeted Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on BuzzFeed’s report. Lanny Davis, Cohen’s adviser, issued a statement to MSNBC’s Katy Tur saying that "Out of respect for Mr. Mueller’s and the Office of Special Counsel’s investigation, Mr. Cohen declined to respond to the questions asked by the reporters and so do I.”
Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s attorney, responded to the report by saying, "If you believe Cohen I can get you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge.”
BuzzFeed says that Mueller’s office has more evidence than just Cohen’s testimony that Trump directed him to lie to Congress. Per the report, Cohen’s testimony is backed up by “interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.”
In November, Cohen admitted he’d falsely told Congress that Trump’s efforts to build a condo tower in Moscow ended in January 2016, when, in reality, those efforts continued through that June. As Mueller noted, Cohen’s testimony was an attempt to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1,” which is how Trump is referred to in the report. Trump had repeatedly insisted on the campaign trail that he had no ongoing business interests in Russia, even as the deal continued to unfold.
In court documents, Cohen admitted that he’d briefed Trump on his ongoing negotiations with Russian officials about the proposed deal and said that he’d consulted with Trump’s team before his false testimony before Congress. But he never said in those documents that Trump himself played any role in encouraging his false testimony.
According to BuzzFeed, Mueller’s team now has evidence that Trump did just that. Democratic leaders promised a quick probe into whether Trump, in fact, did direct Cohen to lie.
“I mean everything feels like a bombshell and we are all numb but I’m pretty sure if this story is true it’s - I’m going to be careful with my words here - something that congress must investigate thoroughly,” tweeted Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted, “Listen, if Mueller does have multiple sources confirming Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress, then we need to know this ASAP. Mueller shouldn’t end his inquiry, but it’s about time for him to show Congress his cards before it’s too late for us to act.”
Added Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.): “This stunning Trump Tower Moscow story establishes a clear case of Obstruction of Justice, a felony. I’ve lost count now how many times @realDonaldTrump has engaged in Obstruction of Justice. Oh, fyi the first Article of Impeachment for Richard Nixon was Obstruction of Justice.”
Lieu added in another tweet that “Based on the Buzzfeed report and numerous other articles showing @realDonaldTrump committed Obstruction of Justice and other possible felonies, it is time for the House Judiciary Committee to start holding hearings to establish a record of whether @POTUS committed high crimes.”
Lieu then speculated on another criminal code the congressman suggested the president may have violated if the BuzzFeed report is accurate.