Republicans stay mum on bombshell BuzzFeed reporting

Some say they want to see what can be verified

By CNN'S TED BARRETT, ASHLEY KILLOUGH, KATE SULLIVAN, VERONICA STRACQUALURSI CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

U.S. Sen. James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican.

(CNN) - Republicans are so far reacting cautiously -- or keeping quiet -- in the wake of a bombshell BuzzFeed News report that President Donald Trump directed his former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.

Some GOP lawmakers emphasized on Friday that they want to see what can be verified before discussing potential consequences, while others sounded reluctant to weigh in altogether.

Sen. James Lankford told CNN on Friday that "we are waiting to see what's true" from the report. The Oklahoma Republican said that if Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress, "that's a very big issue," but added, "we've got to get both sides of the story and be able to get the facts out."

When asked if that would be an impeachable offense, Lankford wouldn't speculate.

"I'm not going to even start to be able to go there. I want to be able to get all the facts on this as we should," he said.

A day after the report published, Mueller's office disputed it as "not accurate."

"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," said special counsel spokesman Peter Carr in a statement.

It's highly unusual for the special counsel's office to provide a statement to the media -- outside of court filings and judicial hearings -- about any of its ongoing investigative activities.

The report

CNN has not corroborated the BuzzFeed report, which states that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress about a proposed Moscow Trump Tower project, citing two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter. The White House has forcefully pushed back on the report, as has Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani.

When asked for comment on the report, Giuliani initially told CNN: "If you believe Cohen I can get you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge." He offered a broader statement early Friday afternoon, saying that "any suggestion -- from any source" that Trump had told Cohen to lie is "categorically false."

Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman, similarly dismissed Cohen's credibility in response to reporters' questions Friday morning.

Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of Senate Republican leadership, skirted a CNN question asking if it would be an impeachable offense if Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress.

"It's pretty hypothetical and I'm not going to comment on that process," the Missouri Republican said.

Blunt also raised the question of Cohen's credibility.

"Let's see what Mr. Cohen says and how credible it appears to be," he said, a reference to the fact that Cohen is expected to testify in front of the House Oversight Committee next month.

When asked about the report, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, told CNN that his focus has been on the ongoing partial government shutdown.

"I've spent the last 24 hours focused on one thing and one thing only and that's getting us out of this government shutdown," Portman said. "So my view on all this, as you know, is that the Mueller investigation is the place to sift all this out."

When asked if it would be an impeachable offense, Portman said: "Honestly I haven't even seen the reports. I'm not focused on that right now."

Democrats more vocal

Republican congressional leaders have largely remained silent on the BuzzFeed report. The House and the Senate did not hold votes on Friday and there were only a handful of lawmakers coming and going around the Capitol.

There was a more vocal and more forceful reaction from congressional Democrats who now control the House of Representatives.

Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, who sits on the House Democratic leadership team and the House Judiciary Committee, tweeted: "If the President directed Cohen to lie to Congress, that is obstruction of justice. Period. Full stop."

"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," New York Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, whose panel would lead potential impeachment proceedings, tweeted Friday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not respond to a shouted question about the report as she was walking into her office on Friday after speaking to reporters.

There does appear to be some degree of consensus between Republicans and Democrats that further investigation is needed, however.

Asked to comment on the report on Friday, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told CNN that she is "sure that will be something that will be looked into by both the congressional investigators in the Senate and the House and by Mr. Mueller."

Portman told CNN that he believes the Mueller investigation needs to "continue unimpeded," though he added that he believes it should wrap up soon so that the public can "have some resolution."

"To have the Mueller investigation be able to continue unimpeded is important," he said. "I also think it ought to be done in a timely way. It's been a couple of years. We're ready. The American people are ready to have some resolution. My hope is this will be included as part of the investigation and we'll get to the bottom of everything."

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