Columns

In Legal Woes, Cohen Says He'll Protect His Family Over Protecting the President

Michael Cohen, President Trump's personal attorney, leaves federal court in New York on April 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

The attorney who once faithfully said he would “take a bullet” for Donald Trump now says his family will come first when it comes to legal matters and potentially flipping on the president.

Trump’s “fixer” Michael Cohen had his office and residence raided by the FBI in April. It was reported at the time that Cohen is being investigated for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations.

Cohen has publicly admitted to making a $130,000 payment, from his home equity line of credit, to adult-film star Stormy Daniels in October 2016 in return for her silence about an alleged 2006 affair between Trump and Daniels, and to setting up a limited-liability company in Delaware to make the payment 10 days before the money transfer. The payment was flagged by Cohen’s bank in a suspicious activity report at the time.

Trump lashed out at the raid as an “attack on our country in a true sense” and “an attack on all we stand for.”

The president tweeted in April, “Most people will flip if the government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that.”

In mid-June, as attorneys left his case, speculation heightened that Cohen was willing to cooperate with investigators.

Breaking his silence with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in a Saturday evening interview at a Manhattan hotel, Cohen was asked what he would do if prosecutors left him with the choice of protecting the president or protecting his family.

“To be crystal clear, my wife, my daughter and my son, and this country have my first loyalty,” Cohen replied, noting that “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 used to lead the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, which now leads the Cohen investigation.

Asked what he will do if Trump and allies try to discredit him, Cohen replied, “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 did not specifically comment on what is under investigation. “I respect the prosecutors. I respect the process,” he said. “I would not do or say anything that might be perceived as interfering with their professional review of the evidence and the facts.”

On the history of the Stormy Daniels’ payment, Cohen said he wanted to talk about it and “one day I will answer.”

“But for now, I can’t comment further on advice of my counsel,” he added.

He did say that he doesn’t agree “with those who demonize or vilify the FBI.”

“I respect the FBI as an institution, as well as their agents,” Cohen told ABC. “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.”

He also refused to refer to the separate probe by special counsel Robert Mueller as a “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,” he said.