By Judson Berger, ,
Published July 02, 2018
Michael Cohen, the longtime personal attorney to President Trump, seemed to distance himself from the president in an extensive new interview – repeatedly saying his family has his “first loyalty” and parting with Trump on criticism of the FBI.
Cohen spoke with ABC News at a Manhattan hotel, speaking at length to the media for the first time since the feds raided his properties in April. While he hasn’t been charged with a crime, investigators are looking at his business dealings and possible election law violations – likely including the $130,000 payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels to stay quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump, which the president denies.
The raid stirred rampant speculation that Cohen could be pressed to provide damaging information on Trump, whom he has fiercely represented for years. ABC News reported Monday that Cohen, in the interview, signaled his willingness to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller and New York federal prosecutors, even if it puts Trump at risk.
“My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will,” Cohen told ABC. “I put family and country first.”
It’s not clear whether Cohen has information that could help Mueller’s investigation on possible collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice. Trump has denied wrongdoing and repeatedly derided the probe as a “witch hunt.” Further, he has publicly said Cohen would not make up “stories” and “flip.”
But ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos said he asked Cohen how he might respond if the president or his legal team came after him and tried to discredit the work he did for Trump over the last decade.
"I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone's defense strategy," Cohen was quoted as saying. "I am not a villain of this story, and I will not allow others to try to depict me that way."
Cohen, in the off-camera interview, also said he doesn’t agree “with those who demonize or vilify the FBI. I respect the FBI as an institution, as well as their agents.” He reportedly said he doesn’t “like the term witch hunt.”
Further, after Trump last week echoed Vladimir Putin’s denial about interfering in U.S. elections, Cohen said, “Simply accepting the denial of Mr. Putin is unsustainable.”
Cohen added that if he is charged with anything in the probe, he would defer to his new lawyer in the case, Guy Petrillo, for advice.
Cohen was Trump's self-described fixer and a key player in the Trump Organization for more than a decade.
As for the “hush money” payment, Cohen, in the past, has said that payment was made on his own initiative. But in the ABC News interview, he said he couldn't comment on advice of his lawyer.
"I want to answer. One day I will answer," he was quoted as saying.
Rudy Giuliani, an attorney for Trump, earlier this month tried to put to rest claims that Cohen might cooperate with Mueller's investigation.
“It’s not so. He’s not cooperating nor do we care because the president did nothing wrong," he said. "I am absolutely certain of that.”
When asked if the Trump team was worried that Cohen may have tape recordings that exist without their knowledge, Giuliani was firm that the president was and is “clean as a whistle.”
Fox News’ Eddie DeMarche and The Associated Press contributed to this report.