Democratic lawmakers vowed to investigate allegations published in a report late Thursday that claimed President Donald Trump personally ordered his former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about a potential real-estate development in Moscow.
The report, published by BuzzFeed News, claimed Trump directed Cohen to mislead Congress about when negotiations to launch a condo project in Russia’s capital ended, as well as the extent of Trump’s involvement in the deal. It later fell apart.
USA TODAY has not independently confirmed the report as of Friday morning.
BuzzFeed, which cited two unnamed law enforcement officials for its report, further claimed that the office of special counsel Robert Mueller investigating Trump’s Russia ties has additional evidence about the alleged deception backed up by “interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.”
Cohen previously testified he falsely told Congress that Trump’s attempt to get the Moscow project off the ground concluded in January 2016 when he actually continued to pursue the project through June 2016. Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying to Congress on this matter.
He is now cooperating with Mueller’s probe and agreed to appear before the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 7 before he begins a three-year prison term in March for crimes that include arranging for payments during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign to silence women who claimed they had affairs with Trump.
BuzzFeed’s story, if true, is significant because Trump consistently denied on the campaign trail having had any financial links to Russia. In fact, since 2016, Trump has publicly repeated more than two dozens times that he has “nothing to do with Russia.”
“There was no talking to Russia. There was no phone calls. I didn’t make phone calls to Russia. I didn’t receive phone calls. I didn’t have meetings. I didn’t have texts. I didn’t have anything,” he said aboard Air Force One in September.
USA TODAY reached out to the White House and the special counsel’s office at the Department of Justice for comment but received no immediate response.
Democratic leaders reacted with anger and concern but also caution, pledging to investigate and establish the accuracy of the BuzzFeed report.
“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,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, wrote on Twitter on Thursday night. “We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true,” he said.
Russia investigation: Michael Cohen offered Liberty University CIO $50,000 to rig two online polls for Trump, report says
More Michael Cohen: Top Democrats warn Trump against obstruction ahead of Michael Cohen’s public testimony
“If Mueller does have multiple sources confirming Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress, then we need to know this ASAP,” wrote Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, on Twitter.
“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,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.
At least one lawmaker called for Trump’s impeachment if the report’s accuracy is proved.
“If the @Buzzfeed story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
There was little reaction from Republican lawmakers.
Lanny Davis, Cohen’s legal and communications advisor, issued the following statement after the BuzzFeed report.
“Out of respect for Mr. Mueller’s and the Office of Special Counsel’s investigation, Mr. Cohen declined to respond to the questions asked by the reporters and so do I,” Davis told USA TODAY.
Trump lawyer Rudolph Giuliani shot down the report Thursday night, saying in a statement, according to a tweet from Washington Post reporter Philip Rucker: “If you believe Cohen I can get you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge.”
Related: Trump’s business ties to Russia stretch back more than 30 years, from big building projects to beauty pageants