Why is Michael Cohen, formerly Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer, doing an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos now, in such a public setting?
Stephanopoulos billed the unusual interview as a one-on-one exclusive, but Cohen was not talking to him. The real audience of one lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Cohen fired off warning signs and also makes a not-too-subtle plea for legal recourse to the one person he is not allowed to speak with anymore: his former client, the president of the United States.
Cohen makes a number of points during the interview indicating to someone that he’s willing to cooperate. He said his loyalty is not to President Trump. “My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will,” Cohen told George Stephanopoulos. “I put family and country first.”
— GeorgeStephanopoulos (@GStephanopoulos) July 2, 2018
This should worry Trump, for whom Cohen said he would “take a bullet,” and on whose behalf Cohen has made nasty legal threats in previous years. Cohen is no longer Trump’s lawyer, and he resigned from the Republican National Committee’s finance team in a public letter two weeks ago, oddly citing immigration as a reason.
Stephanopoulos also asked Cohen about what would happen if Trump’s legal team began to target Cohen as the investigation ramps up. “I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone’s defense strategy,” Stephanopoulos reported Cohen replied with a stiff spine. “I am not a villain of this story, and I will not allow others to try to depict me that way.”
Another point Cohen made relates to the question of who — essentially either Cohen or Trump — paid adult film actress Stormy Daniels to stay silent about her relationship with Trump during the 2016 campaign. Cohen said he would like to provide answers about who directed him to give the $130,000 to Daniels, but he cannot do so in public. “I want to answer. One day I will answer,” he said. “But for now, I can’t comment further on advice of my counsel.” Of course, Donald Trump knows the answer to this, so there is little other reason for Cohen to dangle this in a public setting. Cohen gave a similar answer when asked about the meeting senior members of the Trump campaign took with Russians at Trump Tower in June 2016.
Cohen is not attacking Mueller or the FBI as his old boss does. For someone whose office and hotel room were famously raided by the FBI — which prompted a great deal of uproar from Trump and his allies — Cohen has nothing but respect for 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,” Cohen said. “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 said he did not like the term “witch hunt.”
Though Cohen claims he cannot talk about the specifics of the case, there are some areas where Cohen provides detail. He denied going to Prague for Trump, and further denied colluding with Russians in any way, according to ABC News.
Cohen has a new lawyer, Guy Petrillo, and once he officially comes on board, the legal relationship between Cohen and Trump will change drastically. In Stephanopoulos’ story about his Cohen interview, he said that “ABC News has learned” — from an anonymous source that may or may not be Cohen himself — that “a joint defense agreement Cohen shared with the president, which allowed their lawyers to share information and documents with each other, will come to an end.”
Cohen will therefore soon be charting out his own legal strategy, giving Trump no visibility into what his old fixer is planning for his defense against prosecutors. Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, target of the Russia investigation, also had his lawyers stop sharing information with Trump’s lawyers right before he flipped on Trump and cooperated with prosecutors.
If Cohen truly wanted to cooperate with prosecutors as he said in the interview, he would not be doing an interview. Cohen’s lawyer could speak to prosecutors and reach an agreement.
Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, told MSNBC on Monday morning that Cohen would flip on Trump “to avoid significant prison time,” and giving an interview like this is an example of him “playing games.”
It all goes back to Trump. Cohen’s phone calls in the weeks leading up to the FBI raid were monitored, if not wiretapped, which makes attempting to privately speak to Trump over the phone or in person very difficult. If Trump and Cohen were to talk at this point in the investigation, it would risk accusations of colluding together to get their story straight.
So the only way he can speak to the only person who has the power to pardon him is through someone like George Stephanopoulos.