President Donald Trump‘s attorney and fixer Michael Cohen indicated that the much-touted loyalty he had to Trump only goes so far. In light of the criminal investigation that federal prosecutors are conducting, with possible charges against him to come, Cohen said his main concerns are his family and the United States, and his defense strategy could reflect this going forward.
Cohen stated this when asked how he would respond if prosecutors made him choose between protecting Trump or his family.
“To be crystal clear, my wife, my daughter and my son, and this country have my first loyalty,” Cohen told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview.
This appears to be reflected in his legal representation as well. Cohen had been represented by attorneys with the law firm McDermott Will and Emery after the FBI seized records from his home, office, and hotel, but he has since retained a new lawyer, Guy Petrillo. Petrillo is the former leader of the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office’s criminal division, which is exactly who is after him right now.
According to ABC, once Petrillo takes over as Cohen’s lead counsel in the case, it will result in a major shift for Cohen’s defense away from the president. Cohen had a joint defense agreement with Trump until now, which allowed their lawyers to share information. Once Petrillo officially takes over, that agreement will end.
Joint defense agreements are typically used by co-defendants who are putting forth the same defense in a case, allowing each one’s legal team to focus on particular issues. It also extends the attorney-client privilege to cover everyone involved. Ending the agreement could be due to Petrillo’s desire not to be bound to such privilege when it comes to Trump, but it could also signify a break in how each side wants to move forward, and could potentially put them at odds.
Stephanapoulos asked Cohen how he would respond if Trump eventually starts treating him like an adversary.
“I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone’s defense strategy” Cohen said. “I am not a villain of this story, and I will not allow others to try to depict me that way.”
One notable change Cohen is already making is his response to whether the $130,000 payment made to adult film star Stormy Daniels truly came from him. In the past, Cohen said the money that went to keeping Daniels silent about an alleged affair with Trump came from his pocket, completely on his own, and without reimbursement.
Now, when asked if Trump instructed Cohen to do this, the response is, “I want to answer. One day I will answer.” He wouldn’t say any more, as his attorney recommended he not go into it.
Cohen also disagreed with President Trump’s attitude towards the FBI.
“I don’t agree with those who demonize or vilify the FBI. I respect the FBI as an institution, as well as their agents,” he said. As far as Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation, Cohen said, “I don’t like the term witch hunt.”
Cohen insisted that he didn’t do anything wrong as far as Russia is concerned, and did not collude with them to interfere with the 2016 election, despite having set up a meeting with a Russian attorney to get information on Hillary Clinton, which ended up being fruitless.
Nevertheless, he criticized the members of Trump’s campaign who attended the meeting, saying it was “an example of poor judgment.”
[Image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]