BuzzFeed’s big “bombshell” last week claiming that investigators have concrete evidence President Trump allegedly instructed his former “fixer” Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the “Trump Tower Moscow” deal ended up getting slapped down in a rare statement from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office.
“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 a statement late Friday. The statement came after hours of left-leaning media outlets and figures celebrating what was widely declared as the most “impeachable” claims to date.
What we’ve since learned, as reported by The Washington Post, is that BuzzFeed’s reporters did reach out to Mueller’s office prior to publishing the report, but only to tell them in a very general way that they planned on reporting that Trump directed Cohen to lie. The reporters did not bother to include the key claims from their unnamed sources — like that the allegation was supposedly confirmed “through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents” or that not only did Trump know about the ongoing Moscow real estate negotiations, both Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. were receiving “regular, detailed updates” from Cohen. We’ve also learned the reporters did not “personally” review the alleged incriminating evidence.
While BuzzFeed continues to stand behind its story, many outlets generally on their side are not standing behind BuzzFeed, including CNN. In a report that still tries to offer some hope that BuzzFeed’s claims might be eventually corroborated, CNN’s Oliver Darcy details the “checkered past” of Jason Leopold, one of the reporters involved in BuzzFeed’s Mueller-blasted “bombshell.”
While Leopold and his co-reporter Anthony Cormier “have broken a number of major stories on Trump Tower and Russia that have proven true,” Darcy notes, “the intense attention to their latest scoop has also resurfaced Leopold’s checkered past.”
“Leopold, a former Los Angeles Times, Dow Jones, and Vice News reporter who has been at BuzzFeed since 2017, was involved in several major scandals that called into question the veracity of his reporting during George W. Bush’s presidency,” he writes.
Among the scandals is a 2002 piece about Enron published by Salon that the outlet ended up pulling after it found that Leopold’s account was “riddled with inaccuracies and misrepresentations” and contained “an instance of plagiarism,” which he denied.
“After the scandal, Leopold wrote a book in which he said he had engaged in ‘lying, cheating, and backstabbing’ in his life; battled mental illness; and struggled with substance abuse,” Darcy notes. Leopold described himself as a having a “checkered past,” The Washington Post reported, and hoped that being honest about his problems would help him “move forward.”
Despite his confession and attempt to turn his reputation around, in 2006 Leopold again penned a problematic report claiming that White House aide Karl Rove was going to be indicted soon over the Valerie Plame affair, but it never happened, resulting in more blowback for Leopold.
Leopold, who describes himself as an “FOIA terrorist” on social media, has since published some important pieces, including a deep dive on the Russians’ alleged targeted killing campaign against their enemies and early reports on the Trump Tower Moscow project.
Trump, meanwhile, has taken to Twitter to point to the BuzzFeed story as more evidence of the egregious bias of the “fake news media.”
“Remember it was Buzzfeed that released the totally discredited ‘Dossier,’ paid for by Crooked Hillary Clinton and the Democrats (as opposition research), on which the entire Russian probe is based! A very sad day for journalism, but a great day for our Country!” Trump tweeted over the weekend, adding later: “Many people are saying that the Mainstream Media will have a very hard time restoring credibility because of the way they have treated me over the past 3 years (including the election lead-up), as highlighted by the disgraceful Buzzfeed story & the even more disgraceful coverage!”