“Getting Donald Trump,” the movie, has seemed endless.
On Thursday, BuzzFeed, a more-than-slightly-disreputable news outlet that first published the now-infamous Steele dossier implicating President Trump in serious misbehavior, appeared on the screen with a story claiming that Trump ordered his lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about his hotel business operation in Moscow.
For most of Friday, the country’s news media — overwhelmingly hostile to Trump — ran the story editorializing that “if true” Donald Trump’s impeachment was all but inevitable.
That was not a far-fetched conclusion. The BuzzFeed story quite clearly implicated the president in obstructing justice: telling people to lie is obstruction of justice. Few people doubt that, which is why the BuzzFeed story got so much coverage. The story was all the more powerful because it had nothing to do with Trump’s colluding with Russia, which had been, until Thursday, the linchpin of the anti-Trump forces’ case for impeachment, but for which evidence is scant.
But late on Friday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office issued an unprecedented statement saying: “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.”
Later on Friday, BuzzFeed was still standing by its story, nitpicking at the special counsel’s statement.
It is simply inconceivable, however, that the BuzzFeed story is essentially correct, and that the special counsel’s statement was only a clarification, however badly worded, of minor details.
There are two significant points in this story. The first is that the special counsel thought it necessary to do something to counter the BuzzFeed report. Even that is extraordinary, given the tight-lipped practice of Robert Mueller’s operation.
What was the point of the special counsel’s statement? Presumably to negate a report that would hobble the president from carrying out his presidential duties.
But the real significance of the special counsel’s unprecedented statement is what it tells us about Robert Mueller. If Mueller thought it necessary, in the interest of allowing the president to carry out his constitutional responsibilities, to scotch the BuzzFeed report, it suggests that he would not pursue his investigation into the Russia collusion business past the point where he had found sufficient, convincing evidence of impeachable behavior by President Trump.
If, say, five months ago, Mueller had found sufficient evidence to lead to the cashiering of the president, his action today suggests he would have made that evidence public at that time.