WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer said that he intends to “put family and country first,” comments that suggest that he may be prepared to cooperate with federal prosecutors.
The comments by Michael Cohen, made in an interview published on July 2, could potentially signal new legal problems for Trump, who has been battling to keep thousands of records seized by investigators out of prosecutors’ hands.
"My wife, my daughter, and my son have my first loyalty and always will," Cohen, who once said he would do anything for Trump, was quoted as saying. ''I put family and country first."
"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."
FBI agents in April raided the home and business offices of Cohen, who served as Trump’s personal lawyer for years before Trump’s 2016 election. Among other things, investigators have been looking into a payment that was made to a porn-film actress who says she had an affair with Trump in 2006. Trump has denied this.
He has not been charged, though many observers say it is increasingly likely he will be in the coming weeks.
Cohen was asked if he was considering cooperating with prosecutors in their probe. He avoided the question, however, saying if he was charged with anything he would defer to his new lawyer for advice.
“I want to answer. One day I will answer,” he said. “But for now, I can’t comment further on advice of my counsel.”
The probe of Cohen is separate from investigations being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into interactions between Russian officials and current and past Trump associates.
But the Cohen probe, being overseen by the Manhattan federal prosecutors’ office, reportedly derived from material gathered by Mueller’s team.
Mueller has to date brought indictments against three companies and 20 people on various related charges. Those indicted include Trump’s first campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents and is cooperating with Mueller. Manafort has denied the charges and recently had his bail revoked, after allegations he had tried to tamper with witnesses.
In recent months, Trump has stepped up his attacks against Mueller's efforts, calling the investigation a "witch hunt" and asserting that the investigators were biased against him.
The issue of when and whether porn actress Stephanie Clifford was paid is important because if the payment was intended to be “hush money” -- aimed at keeping her from speaking publicly about the alleged affair -- and it was made during the 2016 election campaign, federal law requires that it be reportedly publicly.
If Trump authorized the payment but it wasn’t disclosed, it could be charged as a federal crime.
Trump has openly doubted the conclusions of current and past U.S. intelligence officials, who say Russia actively meddled in the 2016 election campaign.
Cohen also addressed that question, adding that he has not been interviewed by Mueller’s team.
"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.
"Simply accepting the denial of [Russian Vladimir Putin] is unsustainable. I respect our nation's intelligence agencies' unanimous conclusions,” he said.
Trump and Putin are scheduled to meet for a summit in Helsinki on July 16. Trump administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have said Trump will raise the issue of election meddling with Putin, though Trump’s own recent comment make it unclear if that will happen.