Some late night thoughts on today’s BuzzFeed article and the reply by the special counsel’s office to it
Before I turn in for the night, here are some closing thoughts about the BuzzFeed story. (Here is a Google cached version of the original article; it’s since been updated.)
and the special counsel’s office reply to it:
We need to ferret out why the OSC didn’t outright deny that Trump suborned perjury [it said “inaccurate,” not “false”], and what it was about the BuzzFeed article that it found objectionable — objectionable enough to quite uncharacteristically issue a public response to it.
I think it’s clear from what we know about Mueller, together with a careful reading of the BF story, that what Mueller wanted to counter is the claim that the receipts for Trump’s suborning perjury came to the OSC in the way the BF article suggests it did, and that FBI agents associated with the Mueller probe did the leaking.
The OSC does have FBI agents working for it, but the law enforcement officers who were the primary sources for the BF story were almost certainly associated with the SDNY, not with Mueller.
Significantly, the BF article does not associate the law enforcement officers it used as its sources with the Mueller probe. It only describes them as: “two federal law enforcement officials involved in an [emphasis mine] investigation of the matter.”
These do not tie the FBI law enforcement sources to Mueller either.
Since Mueller does not leak but the SDNY does (just think about the leaks or threat of leaks to Giuliani & Co. that forced Comey’s hand on the Clinton email issue), the most likely scenario by far is that there are two separate investigations into Trump Tower Moscow, i.e., that Trump Tower Moscow is of interest (perhaps for somewhat different reasons) to both SDNY, whose principal focus is malfeasance by the Trump Organization (the business entity) and Mueller, whose focus in on Russian interference in the election.
Mueller would have been indignant that SDNY leaked at all, but would have been particularly indignant and offended that BF, which carried the story, conflated these two investigations.
Here’s one passage from the BF story today that Mueller would undoubtedly have found misleading and objectionable (assuming the foregoing is correct):
“The White House did not return detailed messages seeking comment, nor did an attorney for Donald Trump Jr. or the Trump Organization.
A spokesperson for the Office of Special Counsel declined to comment.
Cohen also declined comment — but the law enforcement sources familiar with his testimony to the special counsel said he [Cohen] had confirmed that Trump directed him to lie to Congress, and also that he had provided details of his conversations about the project with the president and Ivanka and Donald Jr.
While it’s not impossible that BF’s two law enforcement officer sources were SDNY FBI agents who had grounds for thinking that Cohen had so testified to Team Mueller, it is natural to read this passage as suggesting a much closer connection with the OSC than is justified — and certainly a lot closer than Mueller would want to let stand in the public record, since what Mueller would want to scotch above all is the implication that he is changing course now and is allowing someone close to his investigation to leak to BF (or anyone else, for that matter).
Here’s another passages where BF’s fuzziness (and even fudging, arguably) on this matter shows up:
“The trip to St. Petersburg never took place and the plans to build Trump Tower Moscow never came to fruition. But the negotiations occupy an important place in Mueller’s investigation, as agents try to learn whether it is connected to the Kremlin’s interference campaign and whom Trump associates were in contact with to close the deal.”
Question: Whose agents, exactly? Mueller is certainly interested in this question, but that doesn’t mean he leaked the story. (Remember: there must be two investigations; one in SDNY and one in Washington with Team Mueller).
“Federal agents looking into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election [preeminently the Mueller investigation!] also tried to clarify the roles that Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. played in the Moscow tower negotiations, the sources said.”
Same point as the foregoing: WHICH — or rather WHOSE — federal agents?
Note that Mueller’s office has made two assertions about the BF article:
“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office are not accurate,”
and “[BuzzFeed’s] characterization of documents and testimony regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate.”
What must be explained is why the BF article’s central claim was “inaccurate” (misleading) but not false, and why Mueller felt strongly enough about the matter to respond to it in the way it did.
I submit that the above theory does explain these two things.
I will concede that another interpretation should be considered: that the OSC meant that the claim that the BF article’s central claim is not false, but only “inaccurate,” on the grounds that the article did not not accurately describe the inculpatory evidence it does have, as in this tweet by @Delavegalaw and @brianbeutler:
But would that error (if that’s what it was) been enough to impel the OSC to act so uncharacteristically (i.e., to make a public statement correcting the record)? I don’t think so.