Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, will put “family and country first” as investigations continue into his work for the president, including a payment to an adult film star who claims to have had an affair with Trump.
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Cohen’s remarks, in an off-camera interview with ABC’s Good Morning America, will intensify speculation that he may be prepared to “flip” and co-operate with federal prosecutors in New York and investigators looking into Russian election interference and alleged collusion between Trump aides and Moscow.
“My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will,” Cohen told George Stephanopoulos in the interview, which was conducted on Saturday at a hotel in New York. “I put family and country first.”
In answer to the question of whether he expected Trump to turn on him, he said: “I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone’s defense strategy. I am not a villain of this story, and I will not allow others to try to depict me that way.”
Cohen’s home and offices were raided by FBI agents in April, after a referral from Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating matters related to Russia.
Cohen has not been charged with any crime. He told ABC: “Once I understand what charges might be filed against me, if any at all, I will defer to my new counsel, Guy Petrillo, for guidance.”
Petrillo is a former federal prosecutor who was once head of the criminal division of the US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan.
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In April, Trump tweeted that though “most people will flip if the government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories”, he did not “see Michael doing that”. He also called Cohen a “fine person with a wonderful family”.
Trump denies collusion with Russia. He has denied Stormy Daniels’ claims of an affair. But in May his current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, admitted that Trump reimbursed Cohen for a payment of $130,000 which Daniels claims was made shortly before the 2016 election in order to keep her quiet. Filings by Trump showed payments of $250,000 to Cohen in 2017.
Cohen did not discuss the Daniels payment with ABC. “I want to answer,” he said. “One day I will answer. But for now, I can’t comment further on advice of my counsel.”
Regarding Trump’s repeated claim that the Mueller investigation is a “witch-hunt”, Cohen said: “I don’t like the term witch hunt. 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.”
I am not a villain of this story, and I will not allow others to try to depict me that way - Michael Cohen
Trump last week tweeted that Russia “continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!” The president will meet Vladimir Putin in Helsinki later this month. He told reporters on Friday he would press the Russian president about election interference.
Cohen said: “Simply accepting the denial of Mr Putin is unsustainable.”
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Cohen told ABC he thought Mueller would not find evidence he colluded with Russians himself. An infamous meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 between Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, then campaign chair Paul Manafort and a group of Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton was, he said, ““a mistake” and “an example of poor judgment”.
Asked if he thought Donald Trump had known of that meeting in advance, Cohen said he could not comment, under the advice of his counsel.
Another former Trump confidante, former White House strategist Steve Bannon, famously called the Trump Tower meeting “treasonous”. Trump’s role in drafting a misleading statement about the meeting is one instance under investigation by Mueller as he seeks to determine if the president sought to obstruct justice.
Manafort is one of four former Trump aides to have been indicted by Mueller. He denies financial charges against him and is currently in jail, over alleged witness tampering, while awaiting trial. Manafort’s deputy Rick Gates, former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and former national security adviser Michael Flynn are all co-operating with investigators.
In his ABC interview, Cohen concluded: “I want to regain my name and my reputation and my life back.”