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BuzzFeed Editor-In-Chief Discusses Special Counsel's Challenge To Trump Report

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In an exceedingly rare move, special counsel Robert Mueller's office has put out a statement tonight pushing back on a big story from BuzzFeed. That story alleges that president Trump personally ordered his longtime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about a prospective business deal in Moscow, which, if true, raises all kinds of questions about obstruction of justice. But Mueller's office says - and their statement is just one sentence, so I'm going to read it in full - 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."

BuzzFeed is standing by its story, and I am joined now by their editor-in-chief, Ben Smith. Hey, Ben.

BEN SMITH: Thanks for having me on.

KELLY: Glad to have you with us. What's your response to this statement tonight from Mueller's office?

SMITH: You know, it's really hard to respond to that statement because it's not - it just doesn't at all make clear what they're objecting to in the story. It's certainly not a full-throated denial, but they also obviously have some characterization that they're objecting to, but it's - and we would really urge them to reveal which characterization 'cause it's very hard to respond to. And in the meantime, we are, you know, as we have been for more than a year, continuing to report on in particular this story, which is really the arc of the Trump Moscow project.

KELLY: Your story hangs on two sources who you identify as federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter. Can you give us any more detail about these sources and what gives you confidence that they are, A, telling the truth and, B, in a position to know what they are talking about?

SMITH: I mean, you know, I guess all I can say is that we're not playing games with that characterization as I guess people may sometimes do. I mean, these are exactly as described - federal law enforcement officials involved in the investigation and well-placed to know what is going on inside it. I think the other thing...

KELLY: Do you have a track record with these sources? Have they - have their...

SMITH: You know, I don't think...

KELLY: ...Stories checked out before?

SMITH: I don't think I can talk more specifically about these sources, but what I can say is that these reporters and - we have a remarkable track record with these specific reporters and these stories. We were the first to reveal the details of the plan to build a - you know, a huge Trump Tower outside Moscow. Our reporting then wound up essentially being the - prefiguring the Cohen indictment many months later. We then broke the story that Trump had also offered or planned to offer Putin the penthouse of this building. So this is - it's a long line of reporting by these reporters on this specific story that we feel very good about, very confident about.

KELLY: Your story suggests that these sources are not just relying on something they overheard but that there are underlying documents, emails, text messages, other things. Can you give us any detail about that?

SMITH: You know, as we reported in the story and based on these sources, the special counsel has access to documents that - you know, that support this narrative that Donald Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about, in particular, the timing of the Russia - of this Moscow project. And there's no dispute that Cohen did lie.

KELLY: Do you have access to these documents? Have you or your reporters seen them?

SMITH: I don't think I want to go beyond what it said in the story.

KELLY: Well, let me - in the time we have left, if you had a do-over, would you change a single word of this story?

SMITH: You know, we are very eager to hear from the special counsel what they are objecting to and are of course always open to new information, to corrections, to things like that. But the (inaudible) - the onus here is really on them to explain what they're talking about.

KELLY: So the story as written stands.

SMITH: Yes, absolutely.

KELLY: Ben Smith - he is editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed. Thanks very much for taking the time.

SMITH: Thank you for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.