Cohen Defends Himself, Not Trump, Signaling He Might Cooperate

(Bloomberg) -- Michael Cohen says he wants his life back. That could spell trouble for the president.

Cohen, the longtime personal lawyer and fixer to Donald Trump known for his street-fighter style, struck a decidedly non-combative tone in his first public interview since an FBI raid of his premises in April.

He said he supported the special counsel’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and rejected Trump’s description of the probe as a “witch hunt.” He also said he had greater priorities than protecting the president.

“I put my family and country first,” he told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News.

Cohen’s comments seemed to signal that he might be willing to cooperate with the U.S. investigations of the president or his company. Cohen, who has not been charged with any crimes, was intimately involved with Trump’s personal dealings, including at least one hush payment to an alleged paramour, and was once a top executive of the Trump Organization.

Defense Agreement

The interview came as Cohen is set to end his joint defense agreement with Trump, according to a person familiar with the matter. That would sever the legal relationship that allowed lawyers for the two men to work together by sharing information and documents.

Joint defense agreements often allow attorneys for different defendants or investigative targets to work toward a common goal by sharing information that otherwise would be shielded by the attorney-client privilege. Opting out of such an agreement usually means the clients’ interests have diverged.

Cohen also made clear in the interview that he would follow the advice of his newly hired lawyer. “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,” he said.

Cohen hasn’t been interviewed by Mueller’s team, but his business dealings are under investigation by federal prosecutors in Manhattan. It’s unusual for the target of such an inquiry to give a public interview.

Altered Tone

Stephanopoulos conducted the 45-minute interview on Saturday and released excerpts on Monday. Throughout, Cohen seemed to distance himself from previous comments in which he said he would “take a bullet” for Trump. He also said he wouldn’t tolerate being demonized by Trump or the president’s legal team.

“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.”

Citing advice from his lawyer, Cohen declined to say if Trump knew in advance of his campaign’s 2016 meeting with Russians offering dirt on Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, or whether Trump directed Cohen to make a payment to the adult film star known as Stormy Daniels to stay quiet about her alleged affair with the president.

But he made a point to say he had no involvement with Russia, and said Trump campaign members who met with several Russians at Trump Tower in the summer of 2016 demonstrated “poor judgment.”

Russia Probe

Stephanopoulos, discussing his interview on air Monday, said that Cohen didn’t praise Trump “at all” during their conversation. Cohen also expressed support for the Russia investigation.

Cohen even had kind words to say about the same FBI that has been assailed by Trump and that seized thousands of records from his home, office and devices.

“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. Cohen said he dislikes the term “witch hunt,” which Trump uses to describe the investigation, adding that accepting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial of election interference is “unsustainable” and that “as an American, I repudiate Russia’s or any other foreign government’s attempt to interfere or meddle in our democratic process.”

Cohen said he hoped that coming forward would help put his legal troubles behind him. “I want to regain my name and my reputation and my life back,” he said.

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