President Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, is putting his loyalty to “family and country” before his old boss.
“My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will,” Cohen told ABC News‘ George Stephanopoulos in an interview published Monday morning. “I put family and country first.”
Cohen has famously said he would take a bullet for Trump and he has fashioned himself as Trump’s “fixer,” willing to help handle situations quietly. But the interview raises new questions about Cohen’s allegiance to Trump amid his legal troubles and subsequent isolation from the President’s inner circle.
A source close to Trump and Cohen told CNN that they believe Cohen is making the case to justify why he will turn against the President.
“He doesn’t want to look like he betrayed him, so he’s explaining why he’s doing what he’s going to do. I don’t think he personally dislikes Trump. I think he still likes him. His issue is that he doesn’t want to be criminally charged or sent to jail and have his family destroyed,” the source said.
In the new ABC interview, Cohen refused to follow Trump’s lead to cast the FBI in a negative light over April’s raids on his home, hotel room and office.
“I don’t agree with those who demonize or vilify the FBI. I respect the FBI as an institution, as well as their agents,” Cohen said. “When they searched my hotel room and my home, it was obviously upsetting to me and my family. Nonetheless, the agents were respectful, courteous and professional. I thanked them for their service and as they left, we shook hands.”
Cohen also pushed back at the President’s recent tweet repeating Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election, as well.
“Simply accepting the denial of Mr. Putin is unsustainable,” he said.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders would not comment Monday afternoon on Cohen’s remarks.
“I’m not gonna answer questions on this topic and would refer you to the President’s outside counsel,” she said.
The President’s legal team also declined to comment.
Discussing the ABC interview on CNN’s “New Day,” CNN Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin said Cohen’s interview “clearly implies that he will make a deal with the government if there are charges against him and testify, cooperate, rather than sort of hold the line for Donald Trump.
“It leaves, of course, many questions unanswered. Will charges be filed? It certainly looks that way given the context of how this unfolded,” Toobin said.
Toobin added that if Cohen cooperates with authorities, that could affect the Russia investigation as well, which is separate from the federal probe into his business dealings.
“If you are a cooperating witness with the federal government, you cooperate with all of the federal government,” Toobin said. “There is no way he could cut a deal with the Southern District that would not involve also cooperating with Mueller. Law enforcement doesn’t work that way.”
‘I am not a villain of this story’
Friends of Cohen’s told CNN last month that he has signaled that he is “willing to give” investigators information on the President if that’s what they are looking for. He also retained a new lawyer, Guy Petrillo, a former chief of the criminal division of the US attorney’s office in Manhattan. Cohen told ABC that his decision to cooperate with federal investigators will be decided based on Petrillo’s legal advice.
CNN has reported that Cohen has felt increasingly isolated from the President in the wake of April’s raids. Cohen has been under criminal investigation for months because of his business dealings, the Justice Department has said. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
Prosecutors in the case are likely to scrutinize Cohen’s admission to setting up a limited liability company in 2016 to pay adult film star Stormy Daniels, who alleges she had an affair with Trump more than a decade ago and that she was paid to keep quiet about it. The White House has denied Daniels’ allegations.
Trump’s longtime lawyer previously said he acted on his own volition in paying Daniels and that he did not plan on repayment from Trump. But in his new interview with ABC News, he held back.
“I want to answer. One day I will answer,” he told Stephanopoulos. “But for now, I can’t comment further on advice of my counsel.”
Cohen also called Trump campaign associates’ 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton “an example of poor judgment,” but declined to answer whether Trump knew about the meeting before it occurred.
Asked about how he would respond to Trump’s legal defense attempting to discredit his work, Cohen said that he wouldn’t be “a punching bag.”
“I am not a villain of this story, and I will not allow others to try to depict me that way,” he added.