Trump Mocks Cohen, Trying to Shrug Off Fallout From Fixer's Plea
(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump on Wednesday ridiculed his longtime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who implicated him a day earlier in a criminal plot to hide alleged affairs from voters, displaying little concern about any potential legal or political damage to his presidency.
He also maintained his attacks on Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who secured the conviction of Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, on bank and tax fraud charges on Tuesday at practically the same time Cohen pleaded guilty to eight felonies.
In effect, Trump appeared to brush off developments that several of his aides and confidants said amounted to one of the worst days of his presidency.
“If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!" Trump said in a tweet Wednesday morning. He added that he didn’t think two campaign finance violations to which Cohen pleaded guilty -- six-figure hush-money payments to women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump, and that Cohen said were directed by Trump -- were crimes at all.
Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis meanwhile indicated in morning television interviews that Cohen would not seek a pardon from Trump and had information to share with federal prosecutors that could damage the president.
Trump defended Manafort, praising him in another tweet as “a brave man.” “I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family,” the president said. “Unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break.”’
In private, Trump was described by associates as taciturn. On the way to West Virginia aboard Air Force One on Tuesday, the president watched Fox News coverage of the Manafort verdict and Cohen’s plea, two people familiar with the matter said. One said Trump asked aides how the news was playing.
The people described Trump as somber but calm and added that he said nothing critical about Manafort or Cohen. Congressman Alex Mooney and Senator Shelley Moore Capito, both of West Virginia, and Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado accompanied the president and tried to distract him with conversation about legislative issues and other topics, the people said.
Some of his aides and allies were worried about the consequences of the day’s events. Two of them said it was likelier Democrats would win the House of Representatives in November. Two others expressed concern for the country.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s combative former strategist, put the stakes in sharp relief.
“Today clarifies that November is a referendum on impeachment -- an up or down vote,” he said in an email. “Every Trump supporter needs to get with the program.”
Trump disparaged the special counsel’s investigation upon landing in Charleston, West Virginia, telling reporters the probe is a “a witch hunt and a disgrace.” Manafort’s case had “nothing to do with Russian collusion” Trump said, adding that it “doesn’t involve me.”
He didn’t respond to reporters’ questions about Cohen.
He spoke for more than an hour at a large campaign rally, touching on many of his favorite topics -- NFL protests during the national anthem, trade deals, the economy’s performance, undocumented immigration.
Trump mocked Mueller’s probe. “Where is the collusion? Find some collusion. We want to find some collusion,” he told his audience.
He didn’t mention Cohen or Manafort directly.
The White House referred questions about Cohen’s implication of Trump in the campaign finance violations to Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who called the president’s former fixer a liar.
Davis, Cohen’s attorney, said the former Trump fixer may be able to assist Mueller in his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“It’s my observation that Mr. Cohen has knowledge that would be of interest to the special counsel about the issue of whether Donald Trump, ahead of time, knew about the hacking of emails, which is a computer crime,” Davis told CNN in an interview Wednesday.
Davis told MSNBC Tuesday night that Cohen’s knowledge involves the “possibility of a conspiracy to collude and corrupt the American democracy system in the 2016 election.”
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