BuzzFeed Reporter, Editor Defend Explosive Trump Report

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

First, it was the smoking gun everyone had been waiting for. Then, just hours later, it became fodder for the “fake news” mantra repeated ad nauseam by the Trump team.


But BuzzFeed continues to stand by its original reporting that President Donald Trump repeatedly directed his former consigliere Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations for a Trump Tower in Moscow while Trump was campaigning for the presidency in 2016.

That report, published on Thursday and updated the next day, drew tremendous scrutiny after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office issued a rare public statement disputing some of the characterizations in the story by BuzzFeed reporters Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier.

“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,” Mueller spokesman Peter Carr said in the statement.

To give a sense of the extent of the pushback that statement generated, Donald Trump Jr. has tweeted or retweeted about it over 50 times since Friday. Because it is so vague, some have interpreted the special counsel’s statement to mean that BuzzFeed’s entire report is wrong, while others believe that perhaps only a few details may be mistaken.

The Washington Post followed up by piecing together the moments leading up to its publication, including exchanges the BuzzFeed team had with Carr. But apart from acknowledging that Carr wished there had been more communication between the two sides, the Post’s follow-up did little to assuage the need to know the answer to the big question: Is it true?

On Sunday, Cormier and BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith appeared on CNN to double down on the accuracy of their reporting, with Cormier insisting, “This will be borne out.”


“I have further confirmation that this is right, [and] we’re being told to stand our ground,” Cormier told CNN’s Brian Stelter, host of Reliable Sources. “Our reporting is going to be borne out to be accurate, and we’re 100% behind it.”

Smith acknowledged that they are still seeking to better understand which parts of the story Mueller’s office said were mischaracterized. “Obviously, we take that incredibly seriously,” Smith said.


“We want to learn about the construction of that statement—who was involved, when, how, where, why,” Cormier added, noting that he and Leopold are continuing to report the story.

Thursday’s story, titled “President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project,” had been in the works for months. “We take our time,” Cormier said. “We are very rigorous in our reporting. We vet and run down every single aspect of this.”


Smith said that “at least three editors” worked on it before publishing.

Stelter then asked about the process of putting the report together, such as why Leopold’s email to Carr seeking comment was so brief (only a single paragraph), and why the reporters and editors didn’t wait for more than two sources to confirm it. Smith replied, “We published because we were very, very confident in the sourcing of this story.”


It’s also worth noting that there likely were more than two key sources, and they weren’t mentioned. But Cormier made it clear he wouldn’t discuss his sources. And as is widely known, Carr rarely comments on details of Mueller’s investigation.

Later, Cormier made a promise: “This is going to be borne out, Brian. This story is accurate.”


Weekend Editor, Splinter