Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen distanced himself from the president during an ABC News exclusive interview, but on one point he remains unchanged: He played no role in Russian government election interference.
Trump people tell The Washington Times they do not believe Mr. Cohen has incriminating information on President Trump.
The Cohen fall, from prosperous Trump confidant to federal criminal target estranged from the White House, is playing out this way.
He invited ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos for a no-video chat on Saturday, which the news anchor relayed to the public from notes on Monday’s “Good Morning America.”
Mr. Cohen once said he would take bullet for Mr. Trump.
But he told Mr. Stephanopoulos, “My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will. I put family and country first.”
“My silence is broken!” he tweeted in promoting the GMA spot.
But if Trump detractors hope he will implicate the campaign in a parallel probe — Russia collusion — the chances appear slim. Mr. Stephanopoulos said Mr. Cohen again denied any involvement with Russian officials on 2016 election computer hacking or social media “fake news.”
What is Mr. Cohen’s strategy?
Trump allies say he may be pressuring the president from afar to pay his legal fees.
The White House position is that Mr. Trump has done nothing wrong, as a decades-long businessman, political candidate and now president.
Asked if Mr. Cohen will accuse the president, a Trump ally said, “He is empty. Total counterfeit. He’s trying to stay out of jail.”
ABC News said his legal team has severed ties with Trump’s lawyers. Such maneuvering can signal a probe target is ready to discuss a plea deal.
To Mr. Stephanopoulos, Mr. Cohen offered no defense of Mr. Trump and disagreed with the president’s characterization that special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe is a “witch hunt.”
Mr. Cohen is under investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan over election-year hush payments paid to porn star Stormy Daniels. She says she had an affair with Mr. Trump a decade ago.
Mr. Cohen also set up a consulting business shortly after Mr. Trump’s win. The lawyer snared huge contracts from corporations wanting to know how to deal with the new man at the White House.
The FBI raided his office, home and hotel room, seizing documents and computer devices.
Still, on the Russia front, Mr. Stephanopoulos said Mr. Cohen maintains to this day that Russian collusion charges against him are false.
Mr. Stephanopoulos, at one-time a strategist for former President Bill Clinton, did not say during the broadcast from where those charges arose.
But they are contained in a dossier financed by the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and Democratic Party. Composed by ex-British spy Christopher Steele, the June-December memos level unverified criminal charges of Russian-Trump conspiracies. Mr. Steele sourced the charges to unidentified Kremlin figures. No charge to date has been substantiated publicly.
Mr. Steele’s most sensational charge is that Mr. Cohen traveled secretly to Prague in August 2016 to engineer a coverup of Trump-Russia computer hacking into Democratic computers. He supposedly met with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s close lieutenants.
From the day the BuzzFeed news site published the dossier on Jan. 17, 2017, Mr. Cohen has denied all its charges. He said he was in California visiting his son during parts of August.
Mr. Cohen may not believe the Mueller probe is a witch hunt, but when it comes to him personally he believes he has been mistreated.
Mr. Cohen tweeted on June 28,
“My family & I are owed an apology. After 2 years, 15 hours of testimony before House & Senate under oath & producing more than 1000 documents, dossier misreports 15 allegations about me. My entire statement must be quoted- I had nothing to do with Russian collusion or meddling!”
He didn’t identify who owes him an apology. His accusers are Mr. Steele, various Democrats and elements of the liberal news media.
Glenn Simpson, a co-founder of Fusion GPS that hired Mr. Steele, still claims that Mr. Steele went to Prague. He has suggested in congressional testimony that the lawyer used a yacht and Russian aircraft.
Mr. Mueller is investigating Mr. Cohen on Russian-related events, such as a failed attempt to build a hotel in Moscow and his handling of an unofficial proposed peace deal for Ukraine, according to The Washington Post.