While you were busy with the rest of your life on Thursday evening, the online news site BuzzFeed dropped a bombshell of a report on the ongoing investigation into potential collusion between Donald Trump and Russia that may very well be the tipping point for a flailing administration.
As Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier report for BuzzFeed, President Trump directed former personal attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about Trump’s business dealings in Russia — specifically regarding efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow:
The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.
This revelation is not the first evidence to suggest the president may have attempted to obstruct the FBI and special counsel investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
But Cohen’s testimony marks a significant new frontier: It is the first known example of Trump explicitly telling a subordinate to lie directly about his own dealings with Russia. [Pols emphasis]
There is no precedent for the endless stream of bad news coming out of the Trump administration, so it’s fair to wonder if any particular iceberg is sharp enough to sink this ship. But…this is really, really big news. House Democrats quickly pledged to investigate this claim specifically.
Here’s Chris Cillizza of CNN:
The BuzzFeed story also claims that Cohen confirmed this information to special counsel Robert Mueller after “the special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.”
It’s hard to overstate what a big deal that is. [Pols emphasis] No other major outlets have confirmed the BuzzFeed report. But if the BuzzFeed report is right, then the President of the United States directed an underling to lie under oath — which is, in and of itself, a crime.
As Cillizza and others have noted, this exact topic came up during William Barr’s confirmation hearings for Attorney General this week. In response to questions from Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Barr acknowledged that persuading a person to commit perjury is obstruction of justice — which is a federal crime in and of itself.
As Aaron Blake writes for the Washington Post, the key to this new report could be the presence of direct evidence implicating Trump:
Predicting President Trump’s imminent demise has made fools of people since the moment he launched his presidential campaign. But the latest blockbuster story about the Russia investigation is different.
If Robert S. Mueller III has the evidence he reportedly has — that Trump asked Michael Cohen to lie to Congress for him — it could present something that’s been missing thus far from the public domain: an event so cut-and-dried that even Republicans would be hard-pressed not to consider impeachment.
“Asking someone to lie,” as Blake writes, “is not a gray area.” It is a federal crime. Period.
There are 14 current Republican Senators who publicly supported ousting President Bill Clinton for obstruction of justice in 1999; if the BuzzFeed reports are verified, it will be more than complicated for the GOP to skate around the issue. And as Politico reported on Thursday — well before the BuzzFeed bombshell — potential targets of Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump collusion/obstruction are already rushing to turn on each other in a desperate bid for self-preservation.
We may not have to wait long to learn more about these accusations. Cohen is scheduled to publicly testify before Congress on February 7.