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Trump lawyer Michael Cohen says his family, not the president, claim his first loyalty

Michael Cohen, longtime lawyer for President Trump, at federal court in New York on May 30, 2018. (Peter Foley / Bloomberg)
Michael Cohen, longtime lawyer for President Trump, at federal court in New York on May 30, 2018. (Peter Foley / Bloomberg)
By John Wagner Washington Post

President’s Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen signaled in a new interview a willingness to cooperate with federal prosecutors, even if doing so undercuts the interests of the president.

“My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will,” Cohen told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos, according to a story posted Monday morning on the network’s website.

Stephanopoulos, who described the 45-minute off-camera interview on “Good Morning America,” said he pointed out to Cohen that he was not repeating past vows to “take a bullet” or “do anything” to protect the president.

“To be crystal clear, my wife, my daughter and my son, and this country have my first loyalty,” Cohen said during the interview, which took place Saturday at a Manhattan hotel.

Cohen is under intensifying scrutiny from federal prosecutors in Manhattan who are examining his business practices, as well as special counsel Robert Mueller, who is continuing to investigate episodes involving Cohen as part of his probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In New York, federal investigators are scrutinizing Cohen for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations as they examine his efforts to squelch damaging information about Trump in the run-up to the 2016 election, including allegations of an affair by adult-film actress Stormy Daniels.

In Washington, Mueller has been examining Cohen’s role in at least two episodes involving Russian interests.

Stephanopoulos said that Cohen, who has not been charged in connection with either probe, came across “as his own man” during the interview and said he will “not be a punching bag” if Trump’s team tries to discredit him as part of a legal strategy.

During the interview, Cohen declined to discuss specifics of particular cases and offered circumspect responses to some questions.

Stephanopoulos, for example, said he asked Cohen if Trump had directed him to make a $130,000 payment to Daniels in exchange for her silence. Cohen has previously said he acted on his own, with out guidance from Trump.

“I want to answer. One day I will answer,” Cohen told Stephanopoulos on Saturday. “But for now, I can’t comment further on advice of my counsel.”

Stephanopoulos said that in several instances, Cohen broke with Trump in characterizing the federal investigations.

“I don’t like the term ‘witch hunt,’” Cohen said, taking issue with the way Trump has characterized Mueller’s investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 election and possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

“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,” Cohen said.

Cohen also declined to criticize FBI agents who searched his home, hotel room and office in New York, as Trump has done.

“I don’t agree with those who demonize or vilify the FBI,” Cohen said. “I respect the FBI as an institution, as well as their agents.”

“When they searched my hotel room and my home, it was obviously upsetting to me and my family,” Cohen said. “Nonetheless, the agents were respectful, courteous and professional. I thanked them for their service, and as they left, we shook hands.”

According to Stephanopoulos, Cohen also repeated his previous denials of personal involvement with Russian attempts to interfere in the U.S. election.

But Cohen did criticize Trump campaign aides who took part in a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with several Russians after being promised damaging information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

“I believe it was a mistake by those from the Trump campaign who did participate,” Cohen said. “It was simply an example of poor judgment.”

Cohen declined to say whether Trump knew about the meeting before it happened, citing the advice of his lawyer.

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