When BuzzFeed published the story hours later, it far exceeded Carr’s initial impression, people familiar with the matter said, in that the reporting alleged that Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and self-described fixer, “told the special counsel that after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie,” and that Mueller’s office learned of the directive “through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.”

In the view of the special counsel’s office, that was wrong, two people familiar with the matter said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. And with Democrats raising the specter of investigation and impeachment, Mueller’s team started discussing a step they had never before taken: publicly disputing reporting on evidence in their ongoing investigation…

People familiar with the matter said Carr told others in the government that he would have more vigorously discouraged the reporters from proceeding with the story had he known it would allege Cohen had told the special counsel Trump directed him to lie — or that the special counsel was said to have learned this through interviews with Trump Organization witnesses, as well as internal company emails and text messages.