In the wake of a bombshell report late Thursday that President Donald Trump personally ordered his former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations with Russia to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, Democratic lawmakers, legal experts, and progressive commentators were quick to stress the severity of the allegation and argue that—if the reporting is accurate—impeachment proceedings should begin.
“If the Buzzfeed story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached,” Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) declared on Twitter in response to the explosive report, which cited two anonymous law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.
According to Buzzfeed, Cohen told special counsel Robert Mueller that “after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie—by claiming that negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did—in order to obscure Trump’s involvement” in talks to construct a Trump Tower in Moscow.
“The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents,” Buzzfeed reported. “On the campaign trail, Trump vehemently denied having any business interests in Russia. But behind the scenes, he was pushing the Moscow project, which he hoped could bring his company profits in excess of $300 million.”
“Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying about the deal in testimony and in a two-page statement to the Senate and House Intelligence committees,” Buzzfeed noted. “Mueller noted that Cohen’s false claim that the project ended in January 2016 was an attempt to ‘minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1’—widely understood to be Trump—’in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.'”
Analysts immediately pointed out that instructing witnesses to commit perjury—which legal experts say constitutes obstruction of justice—was part of the articles of impeachment against former Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
“Let’s be clear,” journalist Mehdi Hasan wrote for The Intercept on Friday morning: “This is obstruction of justice, plain and simple. If this report from BuzzFeed News is correct, the president has committed a crime — obstruction of justice is prohibited by a number of federal criminal laws, including obstruction of judicial proceedings (18 U.S.C. 1503) and witness tampering (18 U.S.C. 1512) — and should therefore be impeached and indicted.”
“Start the impeachment proceedings,” the advocacy group People for Bernie demanded after Buzzfeed‘s story broke—a demand that was widely echoed across social media.
There's no more "what if Mueller finds something" or "what if there were crimes." It's sitting in front of us. There's MORE than enough on the record now to establish the case for impeachment. The only question is whether Congress will do what's right. https://t.co/s7auU6Puf7
— David Roberts (@drvox) January 18, 2019
So now we know that the president instructed his personal lawyer & fixer to not just pay hush money to cover up an affair but also told him to lie to Congress about his ties to Russia.
And some people still think it's too soon to discuss impeachment? Are you f**king kidding me?
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) January 18, 2019
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee immediately vowed to investigate the claims made in Buzzfeed‘s story after it broke Thursday night.
“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 Schiff (D-Calif.), the chair of the Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. “We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell, also a member of the committee, characterized Buzzfeed‘s report as “powerful evidence of collusion.”
“I say that because it is a consciousness of guilt,” Swalwell said in an appearance on MSNBC. “He is asking Michael Cohen to lie because the truth would expose what was going on with the Russians early on in the candidacy.”
— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) January 18, 2019
While independent investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler called the Buzzfeed story a “huge, impeachment-worthy scoop” if true, she cautioned that there are details in the story that still must be explained.
And Buzzfeed needs to explain, explicitly, why its two LE sources are saying something very different from what Mueller has said in court filings.
— emptywheel (@emptywheel) January 18, 2019
— emptywheel (@emptywheel) January 18, 2019
The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald similarly urged caution about the story given that it is based on the claims of anonymous law enforcement sources.
“Lying to Congress is a felony. People have gone to prison for it. It’s an impeachable offense,” Greenwald wrote in a series of tweets on Friday. “At some point, hopefully, we’ll be able to see Mueller’s conclusions and evidence instead of often-wrong snippets anonymously leaked and thus constantly having ‘if true’ discussions.”