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Week In Politics: Special Counsel's Office Challenges 'BuzzFeed' Report


We have a lot to - ground to cover tonight in our regular Friday week in politics chat. There's never a dull moment, and tonight is no exception. So let's hop right in with Eliana Johnson of Politico. Welcome back, Eliana.


KELLY: Hi - and also Jonathan Capehart from The Washington Post. Hey, Jonathan.

JONATHAN CAPEHART: Hi, Mary Louise. Thank you.

KELLY: So I want to start with this bombshell or maybe not so much of a bombshell. We wait and see exactly if BuzzFeed will walk much of this back. But start with the significance of kind of where this has moved the debate and the questions about the Russia investigation and the personal involvement maybe of the president in terms of what he may or may not have told his former attorney to say to Congress. Jonathan Capehart, you first.

CAPEHART: Well, the thing I find - well, first let's start with the BuzzFeed story.

KELLY: Yeah.

CAPEHART: And what it does is it sort of reiterates things that were mentioned in the December 2018 sentencing memo - Cohen sentencing memo about the fact that Michael Cohen sort of lied about when the Trump Tower project officially ended. The sentencing memo also points out that the special counsel's office was - what Michael Cohen told them, the prosecutors there, was consistent with statements and other things that they had gotten from other witnesses. And I'm not saying they used the word witnesses. I'm using that word now 'cause that's what comes to mind. But they had other information. And Michael Cohen corroborated it - corroborated that. What's at issue here now with the special counsel's office statement is, one, they never make statements...

KELLY: Right.

CAPEHART: ...About anything. And the second thing, though, is this story has been out all day long. And yet at 7 p.m., they put out a statement that has a word and then a phrase that jumped out at me. One, they're talking about the description in the story of what's - what has come from the special counsel's office is not - and the phrase is not accurate. They're not saying that it's false. They're saying that descriptions of certain things in the story are not accurate.

KELLY: Right. The specific line, just to go over it again, that came out of the special counsel's office reads - and I'll quote - "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." And that's the full statement. That's all we got. Eliana, what do you make of this and the timing of this coming out, as Jonathan points out, late in the evening here in Washington?

JOHNSON: You know, I largely agree with Jonathan. It is remarkable for the special counsel to engage with a specific news report about its investigation in the way that it has done tonight. But it does seem, if we're trying to parse this statement, that the special counsel's office is quarrelling with the evidence rather than the conclusion of the BuzzFeed report, and so it could be that the upshot of the report that the president suborn - the perjury of Michael Cohen, inducing him to lie to Congress is true. Though the - as he said, the specific statements and the characterization of documents that BuzzFeed described in its story is incorrect.

Now, that would be an interesting thing I think for the special counsel to do. But the special counsel I think has wanted to operate behind the curtain. And what I think at the upshot here is - that we get from this is that it's really dangerous to try to read into what Robert Mueller's doing. And for all of us in the news media whose job it is to do this, we really do need to wait until Mueller issues his final report to have a full understanding of what he's been up to for the past year.

KELLY: All right, so a lot we still don't know there - in the couple of minutes that we have left, let me ask each of you about something we do know for a fact, which is, we are on Day 27 of this shutdown. Chances of it ever ending do not seem to be enhanced by this Trump-Pelosi feud which we are now witnessing unfolding. Just to briefly recap, Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House, wrote to Trump, suggested he should not deliver the usual State of the Union address at the Capitol. He wrote her back yesterday and denied her the plane she needed to take a planned trip to Afghanistan. Jonathan Capehart, it kind of seems like things have kept going downhill from there.

CAPEHART: Yeah, they really have. I'm not sure. And then today, the other issue that came up is Pelosi's office issuing a statement about how leaks from the administration made it impossible for the delegation to fly commercially, as the president had suggested in his letter. These sort of...

KELLY: Pelosi's office, we should say, says they leaked details - security details about the commercial flight that they tried to rebook, yeah.

CAPEHART: Right, right, correct. But what this all means is we are in Day 28 of this shutdown. There is no end in sight. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is largely absent, and part of the reason for that is because - and he has said this - there's nothing for him to do until the president comes out with a plan that could actually pass his chamber.

And so the onus - as much as the president wants to make this a fight between himself and Nancy Pelosi, he - the Senate majority leader is waiting for the president to step forward. And maybe tomorrow we will find out what the next step is because the president has announced at 3 o'clock tomorrow, he is going to make an announcement from the White House.

KELLY: A major announcement, he says, to do with the border. Eliana Johnson, where do you see this going in the next day or so or maybe week?

JOHNSON: You know, I think this shutdown has been particularly tricky because the Democratic base is largely supportive of Nancy's Pelosi - Nancy Pelosi's position and her unwillingness to budge. And at the same time, the Republican base is largely supportive of President Trump and his unwillingness to give an inch. And so there has really been no incentive for either side to move.

But President Trump announced late this afternoon that he's going to make a major announcement tomorrow, on a Saturday, also an unusual time to give an announcement. And I think that could represent a turning point. We have no indication yet he's going to declare a national emergency, which I think would heightened tensions. So we could see a turning point over the weekend, I think, in the shutdown, which is now in its - just ended its fourth week.

KELLY: Yeah, indeed - lots of unusual happenings here in Washington to close out this work week. That's Eliana Johnson of Politico and Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post. Happy Friday, and thanks so much to you both.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

CAPEHART: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.