WASHINGTON — Washington woke up on Friday to the prospect that the Russia investigation has gone to another level, with BuzzFeed‘s report that President Donald Trump instructed his then-personal attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
The article, citing two federal law enforcement sources, was one of many late-in-the-evening bombshells that have left cable news shows scrambling, but the allegations are perhaps the clearest claim of obstruction of justice.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said on Twitter, “The allegation that the President of the United States may have suborned perjury before our committee in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date. We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true.”
He later said in a statement that “these allegations may prove unfounded, but, if true, they would constitute both the subornation of perjury as well as obstruction of justice.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, wrote on Twitter, “We know that the President has engaged in a long pattern of obstruction. Directing a subordinate to lie to Congress is a federal crime. The @HouseJudiciary Committee’s job is to get to the bottom of it, and we will do that work.”
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tweeted, “I mean everything feels like a bombshell and we are all numb but I’m pretty sure if this story is true it’s – I’m going to be careful with my words here – something that congress must investigate thoroughly.”
Some Democrats, like Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, described the allegations as potentially impeachable offenses, if they prove to be true.
Cohen already pled guilty to lying to Congress about the Trump Tower project. He told the committee that negotiations to build a hotel there ended in January 2016, when in fact they lasted well into the year, as Trump was running for president. He is scheduled to testify before the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 7. Trump denied Russian business dealings during the campaign.
Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, told reporters, “If you believe Cohen, I can get you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge.” He later issued a statement denying that Trump instructed Cohen to lie, calling it “categorically false.”
“Today’s claims are just more made-up lies born of Michael Cohen’s malice and desperation, in an effort to reduce his sentence,” Giuliani said.
Trump retweeted comment from Fox News’s Kevin Corke, and then added that Cohen was “lying to reduce his jail time. Watch father in law!” Trump has previously said that investigators should look into Cohen’s father in law, Fima Shusterman, and his business dealings.
Kevin Corke, @FoxNews “Don’t forget, Michael Cohen has already been convicted of perjury and fraud, and as recently as this week, the Wall Street Journal has suggested that he may have stolen tens of thousands of dollars….” Lying to reduce his jail time! Watch father-in-law!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2019
But the BuzzFeed article suggests that federal investigators may have corroborating evidence beyond just the word of Cohen.
BuzzFeed also reported that Cohen briefed Trump on the Trump Tower deal, along with his daughter Ivanka and son Donald Jr.
William Barr, Trump’s choice to be the next attorney general, criticized special counsel Robert Mueller’s pursuit of an obstruction case against Trump in a memo written in June 2017. At his confirmation hearing this week, he said the memo was narrowly focused on a specific obstruction of justice “theory.” Asked by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) whether “the president persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction,” Barr responded, “Yes.”