Legal experts analyze Mueller statement about Buzzfeed story as Trump prematurely declares vindication

Trump Mueller

President Donald Trump is declaring himself vindicated after Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued a brief cryptic statement in response to a bombshell report by Buzzfeed claiming that Trump told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.

Citing federal law enforcement officials, Buzzfeed reported that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress about his Trump Tower Moscow negotiations, thus committing subornation of perjury, which would be a criminal and impeachable offense.

Buzzfeed continues to stand by the story, but Mueller issued the following statement:

“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.”

Trump followed up by gloating as if he has been cleared of all wrongdoing.

But Mueller’s statement was so brief and non-detailed that many legal experts are pointing out that it’s premature to claim that Mueller is denying the report.

Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe cited an analysis written by attorney Philip Rotner:

While this could be interpreted as a full denial that the Special Counsel has evidence that Trump instructed Cohen to lie to Congress, I think that’s unlikely. If that were the case, I doubt the denial would have been so carefully worded and limited.

More likely, I think, is that the Special Counsel’s Office was narrowly denying only a discrete aspect of BuzzFeed’s report. For instance, maybe the sources got the timing wrong, and Trump actually told Cohen to lie before the election, not “after.” Or maybe Cohen told the Special Counsel that Trump conveyed the instruction to lie through an intermediary, not “personally.”

Clearly, there’s more to Mueller’s statement than meets the eye. But we won’t know what it is until he issues his final report because Mueller is not known for leaking details of an investigation.

What’s truly fascinating is that Trump and his allies are now all of sudden praising Mueller after 18 months of attacking him and the Russia investigation, which is still ongoing and is still expected to be devastating to Trump because it’s not all about what he did or did not tell Cohen to do.

But we could still soon know more about the Buzzfeed story because Congress is set to hear testimony from Michael Cohen himself next month. And he will undoubtedly be asked if Trump directed him to lie. His answer will either pour cold water on the Buzzfeed story or drop like a nuclear blast on Trump’s head and presidency.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

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