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What it means for Trump if he ordered Cohen to lie to Congress

Editor's Note: After this story aired, a spokesman for special counsel Robert Mueller's office released a statement: “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." BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith said the organization stands by its reporting.

BuzzFeed reported Friday that President Trump personally directed Michael Cohen, his former lawyer, to lie to Congress about a potential Trump hotel project in Moscow. In response, some congressional Democrats said ordering a subordinate to commit perjury "is an impeachable offense." Judy Woodruff is joined by Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the House Judiciary Committee, to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is a bombshell from BuzzFeed News that has prompted outcries from Capitol Hill. If true, it could be the most damning set of details yet tying President Trump to an impeachable offense.

    Lisa Desjardins begins with what we know, and the response from lawmakers.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    A new serious friction point between the White House and the Capitol, as Democratic lawmakers react to the report that alleges President Trump ordered his attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.

  • Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.:

    If these facts are true, this is suborning perjury.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Rhode Island Democrat David Cicilline spoke on CNN. He's on the Judiciary Committee, the committee with jurisdiction over impeachment.

  • Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.:

    I mean, there's no question it's an impeachable offense. And it's, again, just one more data point about what was the reason that they were trying so hard to keep this Russia meeting and this Russia relationship so secret.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The Democratic judiciary chairman, Jerry Nadler, said in a tweet that: "Directing a subordinate to lie to Congress is a federal crime," and he promised investigations.

    The BuzzFeed report alleges Mr. Trump personally directed Cohen to lie about plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. No other news outlet has confirmed the story. It comes after Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying to congressional Intelligence Committees about the so-called Moscow project. Cohen is now cooperating with federal prosecutors.

    BuzzFeed says Cohen wasn't a source for its story. The president's current attorney, Rudy Giuliani, denied the report and, in a statement, called it categorically false.

    On FOX News, White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley questioned BuzzFeed's reporting.

  • Hogan Gidley:

    Absolutely ludicrous that we are giving any type of credence or credibility to a news outlet like BuzzFeed.

  • Reporter:

    You're saying the president didn't tell Michael Cohen to do that?

  • Hogan Gidley:

    I'm telling you right now this is exactly why the president refuses to give any credence or credibility to news outlets.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    At a Virginia food bank today serving furloughed workers, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, talked to reporters.

  • Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.:

    I don't know if the new report about Cohen being told to lie by the president is true or not. We will have to ask Mr. Cohen that. But it sure as heck explains why Michael Cohen lied in earlier testimony to our committee.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    He added the committee is arranging for Cohen to appear again next month.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lisa Desjardins.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's hear now from Capitol Hill.

    Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland is a member of the House Democratic leadership team. And he serves on the Judiciary Committee. He formally was a professor of constitutional law.

    Congressman Raskin, thank you very much for joining us.

    You said earlier today that, if this is true, it would be an impeachable offense. How so?

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.:

    Well, we know it's true because, of course, the Republicans impeached Bill Clinton over telling one lie about one sexual affair.

    And this is about organizing a whole pattern of lies in order to deceive the Congress of the United States about a matter of national security and a matter that goes to the heart of American national sovereignty.

    So, lying and obstruction of justice have figured centrally in the impeachments that we have seen in modern times. That is in the Nixon impeachment and, of course, in the articles of impeachment brought against Clinton.

    So, both in the articles that were brought against Nixon and the articles brought against Clinton, obstruction of justice and lying were central. So I think everybody views the president's involvement in lying to Congress and suborning perjury as certainly a statutory felony violation under federal law, but also a major constitutional offense against the rule of law and our Constitution.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Suborning perjury, meaning telling someone else to lie before the Congress or before a jury.

    But, Congressman, what is it exactly in this new information that you — that you think makes it something that is an impeachable offense? What is it exactly?

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.:

    Well, let's start with this. We don't know whether or not this is true. All we have is one news report about what one witness has said.

    Now, obviously, it's a key witness, and Michael Cohen was the president's personal lawyer. But what Cohen is saying is that the president urged him and counseled him and essentially conspired with him to lie before Congress.

    And suborning perjury — that is, urging coaching someone to lie in a sworn context — is itself a federal criminal offense. It is a felony. But, more importantly, when you think about the whole context of it, constitutionally, it's a serious betrayal of the president's oath of office.

    The president is sworn to take care that the laws are faithfully executed, not to take care that the laws are betrayed and violated. And this is just a rank betrayal of the presidential oath.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So when you were asked about a similar question last month, I think after the report had come out that Michael Cohen said that the president had directed him to make payments to two women who allegedly had had affairs with the president, at that point in December, you said that — you didn't think that that constituted an argument for impeachment.

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.:

    Well…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You said, it's a heavy — I'm just quoting you — you said it's a very heavy constitutional remedy.

    But you're saying now this is different.

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.:

    Well, here's the thing.

    I thought that the Republicans completely overreached when they impeached Bill Clinton for telling a lie about sex. It didn't go to the heart of the rule of law in the constitutional system. And so I don't think the president should be engaged in campaign finance violations and cover-ups.

    I don't think he should be having money beyond the contribution limits channeled into the payoff of mistresses. I don't think he should be involved in making illegal corporate contributions, et cetera.

    Having said all of that, that related to the suppression of news of affairs with the various mistresses.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.:

    And I think, there, that's a much closer question. I don't think that the president should be involved in it. He wasn't president at the time. I think it's more arguable.

    But here you have a situation where the president is actually coaching and urging and suborning perjury. And I don't see how anybody, Democrat, Republican, independent, Green, whatever, could see that anything other than an offense that goes to the violation of rule of law and a betrayal of his presidential oath.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just very quickly, we know there's a difference between saying something is an impeachable offense and saying — proceedings should be undertaken to carry out impeachment, the impeachment process.

    Is there any doubt in your mind that that process should go forward now?

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.:

    Well, I'm glad that you make that distinction, Judy, which a lot of people have not been making.

    Just because an offense is impeachable doesn't mean that you necessarily move to impeach, because the impeachment remedy is very much part of the Constitution. It shouldn't be a fetish for us. But it shouldn't be a taboo either. We have to view it as a tool within the toolkit.

    But we have to make a decision that is a mixed question of law and public policy. It's a question of law, because we want to know whether or not he's violated basic legal obligations, yes, but it's a question public policy too, because we have a full public agenda that we're trying to get done , in terms of prescription drug prices, health reform, and so on.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

    Very quickly, what about the White House argument, Congressman, that Michael Cohen is just not to be believed? He is someone who's already lied to Congress. Why should he be believed now?

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.:

    Well, I think the president's lies are at over 4,500 right now, certainly over 4,000.

    So the White House wouldn't be the first place that I would turn to in determining the veracity of another report, especially when it's about the president himself.

    But this is why we have courts. And this is why we have Congress. And this is why people swear under oath. And for those who take the truth seriously, these are very serious allegations. And for those who take the rule of law seriously, these are very serious allegations. And we intend to pursue them with the full investigative apparatus of the Congress of the United States.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, thank you.

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.:

    Thank you for having me, Judy.

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