- President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen broke his silence in an interview with ABC News revealed Monday.
- He publicly split with the president on several topics, including Russian election meddling and FBI criticism.
- “To be crystal clear, my wife, my daughter, and my son and this country have my first loyalty,” Cohen said.
President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen has broken his silence on the federal criminal investigation into him and publicly split with his old boss in an off-camera interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.
In the Saturday interview, which Stephanopoulos detailed in an article published Monday morning and also discussed on “Good Morning America,” Cohen said he would “put family and country first” when considering what he should do regarding that criminal investigation.
When Stephanopoulos pressed Cohen about his past vow to “take a bullet” for Trump, Cohen doubled down, saying: “To be crystal clear, my wife, my daughter, and my son and this country have my first loyalty.”
Cohen, who worked for Trump over the past decade, is the focus of an investigation in the Southern District of New York into whether he violated campaign-finance laws or committed bank fraud, wire fraud, illegal lobbying, or other crimes. The FBI raided his home, his office, and his hotel room in April, seizing roughly 4 million documents from the lawyer. At the time, Trump raged against the raid and tweeted that “attorney-client privilege is dead!”
But in reviewing the documents to decide what to claim as privileged, Cohen’s legal team selected only about 12,000 of the 4 million documents, a number experts said was an exceedingly low percentage for a lawyer.
In June, Cohen hired Guy Petrillo as the latest lawyer representing him in the case after it was reported that Cohen was breaking up with his legal team. Petrillo, a partner at Petrillo Klein & Boxer, has extensive experience in the Southern District of New York, which is something Cohen reportedly sought. Experts told Business Insider Petrillo was the kind of lawyer a person would choose if he or she were seeking to cut a deal with prosecutors.
“Once I understand what charges might be filed against me, if any at all, I willdefer=”defer”to my new counsel, Guy Petrillo, for guidance,” Cohen told ABC News.
‘I am not a villain of this story, and I will not allow others to try to depict me that way’
In the past few weeks, Cohen seemed to be sending Trump signals regarding whether he planned to cooperate with authorities.
In a resignation letter to the Republican National Committee, he publicly criticised Trump’s family separations at the US-Mexico border, and people close to him told The Wall Street Journal and CNN he was frustrated Trump wasn’t paying his legal bills – even suggesting Cohen was open to cooperating with the government and providing information on Trump.
Trump has distanced himself from Cohen, suggesting that the investigation has far more to do with Cohen’s business dealings than anything Cohen did for the president. Trump has also said he is not worried about Cohen giving the government anything damaging on him because he hasn’t done anything wrong.
Stephanopoulos asked Cohen how he might respond if Trump and his legal team began trying to discredit him, and Cohen said he would “not be a punching bag as part of anyone’s defence strategy.”
“I am not a villain of this story, and I will not allow others to try to depict me that way,” Cohen said.
Further splitting from Trump
Cohen also refused to criticise the federal investigators digging into his business dealings and legal work.
“I respect the prosecutors,” he said. “I respect the process. I would not do or say anything that might be perceived as interfering with their professional review of the evidence and the facts.”
At the center of Cohen’s troubles is a $US130,000 payment he facilitated weeks before the 2016 presidential election to the porn star Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, to keep her quiet about her allegation of a 2006 affair with Trump. The FBI sought documents related to that payment and other similar agreements with women.
Trump, Cohen, and the White House denied that an affair took place. Originally, Cohen said Trump did not reimburse him for the payment. In May, however, Trump acknowledged paying back his lawyer for the cost.
Asked whether Trump directed him to pay Daniels, Cohen said he could not comment now but hoped to soon.
“I want to answer,” he said. “One day I will answer. But for now, I can’t comment further on advice of my counsel.”
Cohen split with Trump over the pushback to federal investigators, both those involved in the criminal investigation into the attorney and those tied to the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“I don’t agree with those who demonize or vilify the FBI,” Cohen said. “I respect the FBI as an institution, as well as their agents.”
Cohen said the FBI conducted itself properly in the way it conducted the April raids.
“When they searched my hotel room and my home, it was obviously upsetting to me and my family,” he said. “Nonetheless, the agents were respectful, courteous, and professional. I thanked them for their service, and as they left we shook hands.”
Cohen specifically called out the phrase “witch hunt,” which Trump frequently uses and has repeatedly called Mueller’s investigation.
“I don’t like the term ‘witch hunt,'” he said, adding that he condemned Russia for its election meddling. “As an American, I repudiate Russia’s or any other foreign government’s attempt to interfere or meddle in our democratic process, and I would call on all Americans to do the same.”
Cohen also pushed back on a tweet Trump sent last week mentioning Russia’s denial of any election interference.
“Simply accepting the denial of” Russian President Vladimir Putin was “unsustainable,” he said.
He added: “I respect our nation’s intelligence agencies’… unanimous conclusions.”
Cohen criticised members of Trump’s inner circle – such as his son Donald Trump Jr. and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, now a White House senior adviser – for participating in the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with several Russians after being promised dirt on the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.
“I believe it was a mistake by those from the Trump campaign who did participate,” he said. “It was simply an example of poor judgment.”
Cohen said he could not comment “under advice of my counsel” on whether Trump knew of the meeting before it happened.
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