THE BUZZFEED STORY FOLLOWS A PATTERN OF BOOM AND BUST STORIES

Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on the controversy over the Buzzfeed story of President Donald Trump allegedly telling his former counsel Michael Cohen to lie to Congress. This weekend BuzzFeed stood by its story, though it declined to explain a disturbing discrepancy in the account. I disagreed with the call of Rudy Giuliani to investigate or sue BuzzFeed. If BuzzFeed had two officials associated with the Special Counsel making these allegations, it was right to run the story. My criticism is how the story was overblown by experts and members of Congress as a “slam dunk’ case for prosecution and impeachment despite the absence of any clear evidence or corroboration.

Here is the column:

First there was collusion. Then there was obstruction. Then there was subornation. As the Russia investigation has migrated to every new allegation, a host of experts have proclaimed conclusive grounds for the imminent prosecution and impeachment of President Trump, soon followed by calls for immediate impeachment proceedings, only to be followed by mitigating or conflicting evidence on each allegation.

The latest allegation called a “slam dunk” followed a BuzzFeed story that special counsel Robert Mueller has proof that Trump told his attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress. The same news cycle quickly began, even though the story was long on allegations and short on evidence. Then later that night, the Mueller team released a rare public statementthat proved to be the ultimate buzzkill for the breaking news: “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.”

What is most striking about this boom and bust pattern is how it is repeated with such regularity and so little scrutiny in the media. The president may well be shown to have committed criminal or impeachable acts including subornation. That, however, will require concrete evidence and the satisfaction of the elements of a specific crime. Mueller may supply such facts or he may not. It is the seeming refusal to accept the latter possibility that has increasingly distorted media coverage.

The subornation crime is the latest example. Cohen said he gave false information to federal investigators and to Congress about the effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen told Congress that the attempts to secure the deal ended in January 2016, well before the first Republican presidential primary. Cohen now maintains that attempts continued until June 2016, the same month as the infamous meeting in Trump Tower in New York between Donald Trump Jr.Jared KushnerPaul Manafort, and Russians promising evidence of crimes committed by Hillary Clinton or her private foundation. It also was just a few months before the election.

The discrepancy raises reasonable questions about statements made by Trump during the campaign, as well as statements made by Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump about their own involvement in the planning. But those statements do not, on their face, make a strong case for criminal charges. Trump denied “any business deal” in Moscow, which is not necessarily contradicted by the account of Cohen, who was setting up a potential deal that fell through and did not result in the meeting being discussed.

Trump later insisted he never denied pursuing deals. In November 2018 after the Cohen plea, Trump said about the election, “There was a good chance that I would not have won, in which case I would have gone back into the business. Why should I lose lots of opportunities?” In the end, these statements were not made under oath or to investigators. Even if Trump is viewed as lying about the deal, it is not a crime for politicians to lie to the American public. If it were, Washington would be a ghost town.

Then there is statement by Trump Jr. that his knowledge of the deal was “peripheral” and claims by Ivanka of having marginal involvement. Those descriptions are difficult to use as a basis for perjury alone. They are subjective views of the relative involvement or knowledge of one project among many business endeavors. While there may be other challenged statements, it is quite difficult to imagine a charge that Trump Jr. should have said “occasional” or “periodic” knowledge rather than “peripheral.”

That brings us back to subornation. Cohen has suggested that he lied to Congress either with the knowledge or the direction of Trump. If that were proven, the president could be guilty of suborning perjury, which is a clear federal crime and would be an obvious ground for impeachment. Moreover, his nominee for attorney general, William Barr, testified in his Senate hearing this week that he does believe a president can be charged with subornation and obstruction for encouraging people to lie.

However, Cohen also has said that he tailored his testimony to public statements by Trump, which is materially different from being told to lie. To establish this crime under Justice Department guidelines, prosecutors must show that a “defendant procured the perjury corruptly, knowing, believing, or having reason to believe it to be false testimony” and that the “defendant knew, believed, or had reason to believe that the perjurer had knowledge of the falsity of his or her testimony.” That requires evidence of intent and knowledge by Trump of when the negotiations or discussions ended, as well as a clear effort to get Cohen to move that date back.

Finally, there is the question of whether such a claim alone would be sufficient for impeachment. Subornation was indeed part of both the impeachment articles against Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. When I testified during the Clinton impeachment hearings in 1998, I maintained that lying under oath is indeed a “high crime and misdemeanor” for the purpose of impeachment. The same is true about subornation if proven.

Yet, many members of Congress who called for possible impeachment proceedings this week also voted against the impeachment of Clinton on the same grounds back then. Monica Lewinsky recently confirmed that Clinton pressured her to lie to federal investigators and a federal court. Clinton had brought in his friend, Vernon Jordan, who not only arranged for the lawyer who drafted and filed a false affidavit but also helped Lewinsky, who had very little work experience, secure a lucrative job offer with Revlon, a company where Jordan served on the board of directors.

So Clinton lied under oath, lied to federal investigators, and allegedly suborned perjury. A judge later reaffirmed that his testimony was obvious perjury. When Article III containing those allegations was brought to the floor, the voting members included many current Democratic leaders who insisted that none of it satisfied the standard for impeachment. In the House, they included Nancy PelosiMaxine Waters, Benjamin Cardin, Elijah CummingsSteny HoyerJerry Nadler, and others. Over in the Senate, Joe BidenCharles SchumerRichard DurbinDianne FeinsteinPatrick LeahyRobert Menendez, and others voted against conviction.

None of this means a case will not be made for subornation, obstruction, or other crimes against Trump. Moreover, if proven, Trump should be impeached. While these members were wrong in 1998, they would be justified in voting for impeachment on the very grounds they rejected when a Democratic president was the one being judged. For the moment, however, the only thing that is worse than ignoring the evidence of crimes by a president is ignoring the absence of evidence against a president.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

136 thoughts on “THE BUZZFEED STORY FOLLOWS A PATTERN OF BOOM AND BUST STORIES”

  1. Floor Statement on William Barr to Serve as Attorney General

    by Ron Wyden

    Jan. 16th, 2019

    Mr. President, I have come to the floor today to discuss the nomination of William Barr to be Attorney General. I am firmly opposed to the nomination for many reasons, from his past attacks on the Mueller investigation to his endorsement of torture. More generally, I am deeply concerned about his view that the President is effectively royalty, that he is unaccountable to the laws of our country or to the constraints imposed by the U.S. Congress.

    That brings me to the topic I want to focus on today, which is Mr. Barr’s dangerous views on surveillance and his contempt for surveillance laws and the Fourth Amendment. This is not a partisan issue. There is a bipartisan coalition in the Congress that has fought to protect the privacy and constitutional rights of Americans. But Mr. Barr’s views, once I have laid them out today, should frighten every member of this body. Because what Mr. Barr has said is that, whether Congress supports broader or narrower surveillance authorities and regardless of whether Congress votes for more checks and balances and oversight, it doesn’t matter. Because Mr. Barr has made it crystal clear that the president can do what he wants.

    This nominee poses a unique threat to the rule of law and the Fourth Amendment. His long-held views, which presumably he will put into practice if he is confirmed, threaten the very notion that Congress or the courts have any say on who in America gets spied on. If he is confirmed as attorney general, Mr. Barr could take us back, and not just twelve years to an era of warrantless wiretapping. As Mr. Barr himself has made clear, he would take us back forty years, to an era before the Church Committee when neither Congress nor the courts had any role at all in checking or overseeing an abusive, out-of-control government.

    Back before the reforms of the 1970s, the government committed one horrific abuse after another. It spied on hundreds of thousands of innocent Americans. It spied on activists. It spied on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It spied on Congress. When these abuses came to light, Congress acted by passing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which established a secret court to issue warrants against spies and terrorists.

    Unfortunately, the government violated the law when it implemented its warrantless wiretapping program in 2001. The program included warrantless collection of the content of private communications, including through warrantless targeting of phone numbers and email addresses of people here in the United States. The program also included the bulk collection of telephone and email records of enormous numbers of innocent, law-abiding Americans. All of this occurred, in secret, without warrants or any court oversight at all. And almost no one in Congress, not even the members of the intelligence committees, knew about it.

    And there’s more @

    https://medium.com/@RonWyden/floor-statement-on-william-barr-to-serve-as-attorney-general-9140b7fca23a

    1. BROOKINGS NOW

      40 years ago, Church Committee investigated Americans spying on Americans

      Thomas Young
      Wednesday, May 6, 2015

      https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brookings-now/2015/05/06/40-years-ago-church-committee-investigated-americans-spying-on-americans/

      The Church Committee’s investigations also led to passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 1978. The FISA court was originally designed to guard executive branch surveillance programs from the public while ensuring the other branches of government could oversee activities.

      After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, and the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, attitudes toward government surveillance changed. “The emergence of this new menace to America and its allies,” Taylor wrote in his essay, “brought an upsurge in political and public support for aggressive surveillance of potential terrorists, and a muting of the concerns that had arisen in the 1970s about the past sins and excessive zeal of U.S. intelligence agencies.”

      1. People are ignorant about the Church committee investigations and reforms, even after the 9/11 threw it all out the window and that Snowden guy established the abuses had all sprung up anew in newer forms. Well at least some people mentioned it.

        That ignorance is regrettable and thank you for another reminder about this good episode in American history when so many intel community abuses were exposed and at least temporarily, reduced.

  2. I ordinarily do not respond to the Anony Mice which infect the place but I have known congressional staffers.

    They are competent.

    1. That is multiple assumptions wrapped into one. Even very competent people didn’t read the bill in detail enough to understand it. It wasn’t a complete bill, rather a shell and it involved tremendous ties with other laws. Probably the number of Congressional staff people that actually read the complete bill, understood the economics behind it could fit into one room that wasn’t very large. That would be a generous assessment. The Anon above was mine meant to have my name but it didn’t.

        1. I’ll accept that David. Understand, Obamacare was an impossible bill to digest in a short amount of time and I don’t think most staffers have the capability of understanding it. When Pelosi said “we will have to pass the bill to see what is in it” she wasn’t kidding. If the bill made economic sense and was better written it would have been better understood. Go to the bill and do a search for variants of “the secretary shall (will)…(decide)” When you see the number of entries you will have to recognize the bill incomplete. If you learn a bit about death spirals you could easily see that the bill could not survive.

            1. That is fine if you don’t mind Medicaid for all and a very large bill,

              David, that is the problem with your type of thinking. You latch onto a slogan but don’t bother with any details. Too make it worse you latch onto facts that aren’t true.

  3. I am beginning to believe that conservatives will get no justice. I believe the Democrats will eventually bring impeachment proceedings against Trump whether they are warrented or not, and they will vote to impeach him because they want to destroy him. This isn’t about justice, but rather rapid partisanship. They have already made an example out of what they will do to Republican Supreme Court nominees. They are also actively working to abolish the electoral college, which would disenfranchise 48 states out of having any say in Presidential elections. Democrat control of the education system from pre-K to graduate school has ensured that we produce generation after generation incapable of the critical reasoning skills to stop this tyranny.

    I have long ago grown immune to headlines due to manufactured crisis fatigue. It reminds me of when I used to watch soap operas during high school. They would drag on these shows for decades, until the plots became so ludicrous is was the equivalent of professional wrestling plot lines. Now, telenovelas know how to get her done in 3 months or less. They cover everything – the scheming mother in law forcing the nobleman she caught to trick her daughter in law into sleeping with him because her husband is gay, then they fall in love but he’s already married to a loveless woman who’s been sleeping with his cousin, who was switched with him at birth and…has syphilis.

    The mainstream media should ditch their anemic efforts at pretending to do real journalism, and just start reporting on Trump like a telenovela: Breaking News! Trump’s family doctor discovered that Trump’s brain tumor, which he’s hidden from the public and in fact is the cause of his ruddy skin tone, is actually a cyst formed around an implant placed there by the Russians to control him during that meeting with the Russian lawyer. He doesn’t remember the meeting, because the implant gives him amnesia, along with an inexplicable urge to secure our border. That weakens the drug cartels, which are Russia’s biggest competition in the opioid smuggling business. His maid, an illegal alien from Mexico, is also a Russian spy who infiltrated Trump’s staff at the Miss America contest whose inside contact is…Invanka!

    Since the media has lowered journalism to the level of a Mean Girl’s Burn Book, let’s just turn it into theatre and get the popcorn while we watch journalistic integrity burn.

  4. NEW BOOK BY FORMER WHITE HOUSE AIDE..

    DESCRIBES TRUMP TANTRUMS AND LACK OF INTEREST

    Sims depicts Trump as deeply suspicious of his own staff. He recalls a private huddle in which he and Keith Schiller, the president’s longtime bodyguard and confidant, helped Trump draw up an enemies list with a Sharpie on White House stationery. “We’re going to get rid of all the snakes, even the bottom-feeders,” Trump told them.

    White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly told the staff that he viewed his job as serving the “country first, POTUS second,” which Sims interpreted as potentially hostile to Trump’s agenda.

    Sims recounts that Kelly once confided to him in a moment of exasperation: “This is the worst [expletive] job I’ve ever had. People apparently think that I care when they write that I might be fired. If that ever happened, it would be the best day I’ve had since I walked into this place.”

    A conservative media figure in Alabama, Sims came to work on Trump’s 2016 campaign and cultivated a personal relationship with the candidate-turned-president. Sims writes rich, extended dialogue from his conversations with Trump and others in the administration.

    As White House director of message strategy, Sims regularly met Trump at the private elevator of the residence and accompanied him to video tapings — carrying a can of Tresemmé Tres Two hair spray, extra hold, for the boss. At one such taping, about an hour after Trump had tweeted that he saw MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski “bleeding badly from a facelift,” the president sought feedback from Sims and Spicer.

    “They’re going to say it’s not presidential,” Trump said, referring to the media. “But you know what? It’s modern-day presidential.” The president then raged about the “Morning Joe” program on which Brzezinski appears and instructed Spicer, “Don’t you dare say I watch that show.”

    At times, Trump evinced less rage than a lack of interest. Sims recounts one time when Ryan was in the Oval Office explaining the ins and outs of the Republican health-care bill to the president. As Ryan droned on for 15 minutes, Trump sipped on a glass of Diet Coke, peered out at the Rose Garden, stared aimlessly at the walls and, finally, walked out.

    Ryan kept talking as the president wandered down the hall to his private dining room, where he flicked on his giant flat-screen TV. Apparently, he had had enough of Ryan’s talk. It fell to Vice President Pence to retrieve Trump and convince him to return to the Oval Office so they could continue their strategy session.

    Book Excerpts from: “Team Of Vipers”, by Cliff Sims

    Edited from “Absolutely Out Of Control: Cliff Sim’s Book Depicts Life In Trump’s White House”

    Today’s Washington Post

    1. RE. ABOVE:

      The book’s author, Cliff Sims, was a conservative media figure in Alabama who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign. Sims was then part of Trump’s original White House team as ‘Director Of Message Strategy’.

      Of particular interest here is Trump’s lack of attention as Paul Ryan explains the proposed ‘Republican Healthcare Plan’. After minutes of obvious boredom, Trump actually got up and wandered off. In all fairness to Trump, I would be bored as well. Ryan’s ‘healthcare plan’ was little more than a tax cut in disguise. But Trump embraced it anyway. However at the time I wondered if Trump had any idea what the plan was really about. The passage above confirms that Trump honestly didn’t care. But that was his ‘fantastic health plan’.

      1. If a lack of attention is troubling you, then you must have been distraught when Nancy Pelosi said we had to pass Obamacare to learn what’s in it. She voted for something she didn’t trouble to read or understand, likely because it stacked up to over 6 feet tall.

          1. David, what foolishness. How many of the Congressional staff do you think actually read Obamacare and knew what was in it? Very few outside of those that may have been involved with writing the bill. You sound ignorant with comments of this nature. As Gruber, the architect of ObamaCare stated, they had to lie to the American people or the bill would never have passed. They also had to bribe virtually every sector touched by the bill including a good number of representatives for it to pass. It was a lousy bill, incomplete and doomed to fail.

        1. Karen, many Democrats felt Obama tried too hard preserving the free market. That may have been what Nancy Pelosi meant. Like “Won’t this be a bonanza to health insurers?” But that was part of the design. And Obamacare was popular in states that embraced it. Hospitals and Health Insurers were totally on board.

          But out of pure spite Republicans did everything possible to sabotage Obamacare. That trend accelerated when Trump got the White House: ‘Spiteful sabotage to Obamacare’. Consequently the Obamacare that survives is handicapped version of the original.

          1. “Hospitals and Health Insurers were totally on board.”

            They were all bribed by certain portions in the bill that stood to make them more money. It has dearly cost the American taxpayer, the sick American, the American seeking a job, and the American family.

            “But out of pure spite Republicans did everything possible to sabotage Obamacare.”

            There was no sabotage until late, but the bill was already failing. What you call sabotage was the fact that new legislation wasn’t passed so that the bill could be kept on life support.

            1. Alan, you’re totally, totally wrong!! Had Obamacare been allowed to prosper as originally designed, it would be totally viable.

              But Republicans sabotaged Obamacare right out of the gate with endless lawsuits and resistance in red states, Obamacare never had the chance to work as designed. The fact that it still survives at all is amazing considering the efforts Republicans devoted to destroying it.

              The Republican spite was, and ‘is’, purely ideological. They don’t want people to think ‘government can work’. From a Tea Party mindset, that’s the worst lesson the public could learn: ‘government can work’.

              If you’re coming from a perspective where ‘government is always the problem’, you can’t let government work. It would contradict your whole message and set a terrible precedent. Republicans felt they had to ‘nip Obamacare at the bud’ so it could ‘never take root’.

              Republican resistance to infrastructure programs is another example of ideological spite. The last thing Republicans want is impressive new infrastructure that captures the public’s imagination. Such infrastructure would encourage people to think that government can take the lead through public works programs.

              Republican denial of Climate Change is a prime example of ideological spite. The recognition of Global Warming and conversion to clean energies would require muscular government leadership; exactly what Republicans don’t want!

              Republicans would rather keep America dependent on old technologies than let people think government can lead. The last thing Republicans want is a smooth transition to clean energies; that would destroy their anti-government message! Their entire denial hinges on that level of stupidity. Consequently America’s superpower status is on borrowed time.

              1. “Alan, you’re totally, totally wrong!! Had Obamacare been allowed to prosper as originally designed, it would be totally viable.”

                Since Obamacare paid for those that were subsidized and raised the price on those that were not there was a continuous drain of healthy persons out of the plan making the rates climb. That is known as a death spiral. You don’t have the slightests idea of healthcare economics or Obamacare.

                The Republicans didn’t sabotage it nor did they have to. Given enough time the death spiral was going to kill it or ever increasing costs would do the same. In order to pay for Obamacare the government needed revenue paid for by workers but to mention one of many bad things caused by Obamacare, Obamacare was reducing employment. To keep insurance rates down one needs competition among insurers, but Obamacare created an environment where new insurers would not be able to enter the marketplace. Competition also keeps prices down among hospitals but the Obama administration and Obamacare increased consolidation and prices went up for hospitals, doctors and pharmaceuticals. That means insurance rates climb. That means more healthy people try to avoid carrying insurance. Those costs were also created by the mandates the plan and the administration created.

                I’m just mentioning a few things off the top of my head in no particular order. If you have any knowledge why don’t you discuss Obamacare instead of blaming Republicans. The Dems had the House, Senate and Presidency. Why didn’t they pass a healthcare bill that was self sustaining and wouldn’t have to constantly be provided more help financially or otherwise. Obamacare even got help from the Supreme Court. Remember? The penalty was argued among Democrats and it was agreed it was not a tax. In order for it to survive Justice Roberts made it a tax.

                Instead blaming Republicans for the failure of progressive ideology why don’t you tell us why Obamacare wouldn’t have fallen apart. Why don’t you talk about costs, mandates, consolidation, and all the other things that eventually would destroy Obamacare if something else didn’t do it first? You don’t because you don’t have the slightest idea of what you are talking about.

    2. have you given up interacting with the other posters here and just going to throw out all your own headlines now? sad, you are a good conversationalist when you’re not repeating all the bullet points they dictate to you for repetition

    3. PH – you’re kidding. That’s your breaking news? An informant who used his position to spy on Trump and then get rich selling his version of events complains that Trump…didn’t seem to trust those around him and wasn’t enjoying his time getting pilloried every single day and threatened with death. Wonder why.

      Why not just write an article that Trump sends mean Tweets?

      1. Karen S.,…
        Sims is 34 years old and received a One Million $ advance for his book.
        Depending on sales, he stands to make a lot more.
        He’s started a consulting firm…..I don’t know if he does actual lobbying….so he’ll probably be able to cash in with his business in addition to the royalties from his book.
        He turned down a key position in the State Dept. last spring; I don’t know what he was making as a communication aide, or what the job at State would have paid.
        Whatever those jobs might have paid, I doubt that it’s anywhere near what he’ll be raking in from the book and his consulting firm.
        But the 2 years in the Trump Administration and the year? he spend with Trump on the campaign trail will pay off very, very well for him.
        Most members of Congress or administrations put in more time in government positions before capitalizing financially, but Sims didn’t waste any time.

        1. Tom, not all employers want a Communications Director who wrote a Tell-All book. So don’t assume that everyone writes one to cash in. $1 million is not necessarily a big sum of money in the career of a successful professional. A truly ambitious professional might chose ‘not’ to write a book. It could lower his lifetime earnings.

          Sims, however, is an Alabama native and longtime friend of Jeff Sessions. That link, more than any, explains the Tell All Book. An Alabama boy might not take unkindly to Trump’s treatment of Jeff Sessions.

  5. Mueller knew!

    Obergruppenfuhrer Mueller and his Schutzstaffel knew!

    https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/key-doj-officials-mueller-knew-about-dossier

    “Ohr said he got in touch with Andrew McCabe, who was at the time the number-two man at the FBI. When Ohr went to McCabe’s office to talk, FBI lawyer Lisa Page was also there. “So I provided the information to them,” Ohr said. Ohr said he later talked to another top FBI official, Peter Strzok.

    That was the FBI. But what about the Justice Department itself? “Who at the department knew that you were talking to Chris Steele and Glenn Simpson?” asked Trey Gowdy, who last year was chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee.

    “I spoke with some people in the Criminal Division, other career officials who dealt with some of these matters,” Ohr answered.

    “Any of them have names?” Gowdy asked.

    “Yes, so I was about to tell you,” replied Ohr. “One of them was Bruce Swartz, who is the counselor for international affairs in the Criminal Division; a person who was working with him at the time, working on similar matters in the Criminal Division, was Zainab Ahmad; and a third person who was working on some — some of these matters, I believe, was Andrew Weissmann.”

    Gowdy wanted to make sure about the third name. “Who is that last one?” he asked

    “He was head of the Fraud Section at the time,” said Ohr.

    “I’ve heard his name somewhere before, I think,” said Gowdy. Weissmann has become widely known as Mueller’s hard-charging “pit bull.”

    Ahmad was a prosecutor who worked on terrorism cases. She later joined Mueller’s team, as well.

    “When I provided [the Steele information] to the FBI, I tried to be clear that this is source information,” Ohr said. “I don’t know how reliable it is. You’re going to have to check it out and be aware. These guys were hired by somebody relating to — who’s related to the Clinton campaign, and be aware — ”

    “Did you tell the bureau that?” asked Gowdy.

    “Oh, yes,” said Ohr.

    “Why did you tell the bureau that?”

    “I wanted them to be aware of any possible bias or, you know, as they evaluate the information, they need to know the circumstances.”

    “So you specifically told the bureau that the information you were passing on came from someone who was employed by the DNC, albeit in a somewhat triangulated way?” asked Gowdy.

    “I don’t believe I used — I didn’t know they were employed by the DNC,” Ohr answered. “But I certainly said yes, that — that they were working for — you know, they were somehow working, associated with the Clinton campaign. And I also told the FBI that my wife worked for Fusion GPS, or was a contractor for Fusion GPS.”

    – Washington Examiner

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