Once President Trump’s most loyal counselor, his personal attorney and political fixer made it clear today he is willing to throw his longtime client under the bus before he allows it to run over him, his family or his country.
Michael Cohen, who famously said he would “take a bullet” for the president, sent very different signals in an interview with ABC News that was made public today by George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America.
“To be crystal clear, my wife, my daughter and my son, and this country have my first loyalty,” Cohen said in an off-camera 45- minute interview held Saturday in a New York City hotel.
In his first on the record interview since Cohen’s office, home and hotel room were raided by FBI agents who collected a large trove of files, data, cell phones and other records, the cagey Cohen was as revealing in the questions he would not answer as those he would.
When asked by Stephanopoulos if he was considering cooperating with prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York or Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigations into Trump and Russia colluding on the 2016 election, Cohen said if and when he is charged with anything he will defer to his new lawyer, Guy Petrillo, for advice on how to respond.
That is a huge difference from the past when he took the Fifth Amendment and from past views of Trump confidants who predicted Cohen would never become a witness for the state against Trump.
Even the hiring of Petrillo is a big signal.
His former legal representatives were coordinating with Trump’s legal team and it was believed would work hand in hand to protect the president first and Cohen later.
Now Cohen is clearly his own man with his own representation and he is signaling he will not be the fall guy for the president, even if there were attempts to discredit him.
“I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone’s defense strategy,” said Cohen,
“I am not a villain in of this story,” he added, pointedly, “and I will not allow others to try and depict me that way.”
Cohen was asked if he stood by his prior statements that he alone made the $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election in order to keep her from going public with her story that she and Trump once had sexual relations in 2006.
Cohen refused to answer on the advice of his lawyer but added: “I want to answer. One day I will answer.”
That is important because it is believed to be a big issue in the investigation by the U.S. Attorney, who opened a case against Cohen after it was referred to that office by Mueller.
Since Cohen first said he alone made the payment, it has come to light that Trump did funnel payments to Cohen to cover the cost of that hush money, as well as lingering questions about whether others – possibly a Russian oligarch – provided the funds.
Cohen – who once negotiated a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow – also denied, again, that he had any involvement in Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and he refused to criticize the investigation by Mueller.
Cohen went so far as to dispute the use of the term that Trump has frequently used to describe the investigations by Mueller.
“I don’t like the term ‘witch hunt,'” said Cohen.
“As an American,” he added, ” 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, who has not yet been interviewed by Mueller or his team, also pointedly disagreed with Trump’s recent tweet in which he repeated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s insistence that Russia did not interfere in the U.S. election
“Simply accepting the denial of Mr. Putn is unsustainable,” said Cohen. “I respect our nation’s intelligence agencies’…unanimous conclusions.”
When asked if he had any regrets about how he has handled the issues being investigated, Cohen made clear he will not be a scapegoat for Trump for anyone else.
“As an attorney and as an employee, I tried to make good faith judgments in the past,” said Cohen.
“I also acknowledge that I am not perfect,” he added. “I would prefer not to be in this situation at all, obviously.”
Cohen also made it clear that his plan is to redeem himself and reclaim the good life as a husband, father, attorney, and member of the community which he could see taken away.
“I want to regain my name.” said Cohen, “and my reputation and my life back.”
What is startling about Cohen’s conversation with Stephanpoulous is how far he distanced himself from Trump in so many ways while making it obvious that with the life he has built about to blow up, he will fight for himself and his family first – not necessarily for Trump.
— Mediaite (@Mediaite) July 2, 2018
There was no sense that Cohen is ready to be the fall guy for Trump with a wink and nod to the expectation that the president will then pardon him as a way to escape his troubles.
To do that would mean Cohen would have to admit to crimes which could permanently tar his reputation, put him in jail for a time, bring shame to his family, lead to his disbarment as an attorney and other unhappy consequences.
There is a widespread belief that as Trump’s personal attorney, fixer and go-to representative to business, the press and others during his years working for and with the Trump Organization, Cohen knows where the rotting bodies are buried.
Even for a self-deluding egomaniac like Trump, that has to be a scary prospect.
For the rest of America, it could well be some very good news.