Trump lawyer Michael Cohen pleads the Fifth as president admits Cohen 'represents me with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal'

Key Points
  • President Trump says his long-time personal lawyer Michael Cohen "represents me with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal."
  • Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for the porn star Daniels, says Trump's comment was "hugely damaging" to the president.
  • Trump has previously claimed ignorance about a 2016 payment Cohen made to Daniels, who claims she had sex with the president.
  • In addition to a lawsuit by Daniels, Cohen is under federal criminal investigation in Manhattan.
Adult film actress Stormy Daniels (Stephanie Clifford) and Michael Avenatti, attorney for Stormy Daniels, speak to the media after a hearing related to Michael Cohen.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

The "crazy Stormy Daniels deal" got even crazier Thursday as President Donald Trump made bombshell statements about that porn star's legal claim against him — and his lawyer Michael Cohen prepared to deal with the fallout from pleading the Fifth Amendment in the Daniels suit.

Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, immediately crowed that Trump's comments were "hugely damaging" to the president's legal defense against a lawsuit by the actress.

All of this occurred shortly before a key hearing in Manhattan federal court, where prosecutors and lawyers for Cohen and Trump were set to discuss details of how to handle evidence recently seized from Cohen as part of a criminal probe of him.

Trump, during an interview on "Fox and Friends," said Cohen "represents me with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal."

"From what I see, he did absolutely nothing wrong," Trump added.

The president also said Cohen has handled just a "tiny, tiny fraction of his "overall legal work."

Cohen has admitted paying Daniels $130,000 on the eve of the 2016 presidential election.

Daniels says the money was for her signed agreement to keep publicly silent about an affair she claims to have had with Trump a decade earlier. The White House has denied any such affair.

Daniels earlier this year sued Cohen and Trump seeking to be released from the nondisclosure agreement based on the argument that the president never signed the deal.

Trump has publicly claimed recently that he was unaware of the payment from Cohen or the deal the lawyer cut with Daniels at the time it happened.

President Donald Trump's long-time personal attorney Michael Cohen, center, exits a New York court on April 16, 2018 in New York City.
Getty Images

Avenatti, appearing on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," said Trump's admission to "Fox and Friends" that Cohen was his lawyer for the Daniels "deal" is "a hugely damaging admission by the president."

"Because according to what he said on Air Force One a few weeks ago, he didn't know anything about the agreement," Avenatti said.

"He's now just admitted, and he tripped himself up, he's just admitted that in fact Michael Cohen's represented him in connection with the Stormy Daniels situation."

Trump's comments could also increase pressure on Cohen to cut a deal with federal prosecutors in New York who are investigating him for a range of issues, including the payment to Daniels.

Documents related to the hush-money deal with her were among files seized by the FBI during a raid on Cohen's home, office and hotel room on April 9.

There has been widespread speculation, including by people close to Trump, that Cohen will agree to provide evidence against Trump in exchange for leniency in any criminal prosecution.

Reached for comment Thursday morning after Trump's interview, Cohen told CNBC that "I'm on the other line with my lawyers." He then hung up.

Cohen was preparing for Thursday's hearing in Manhattan federal court related to evidence seized in the FBI raids.

A judge is mulling whether to appoint a so-called special master, who would review Cohen's files to prevent ones that are protected from attorney-client privilege from being turned over to prosecutors in the case.

Trump lawyer Joanna Hendon in a letter filed in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday said "our client" — the president — "will make himself available, as needed, to aid" Hendon and her legal team in reviewing Cohen's files for attorney-client privilege issues.

Cohen has cited the ongoing criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in New York as a reason that Daniels' lawsuit in Los Angeles federal court be put on hold temporarily.

Cohen on Wednesday afternoon filed a notice in Los Angeles court that he plans to claim his right against being forced to give potentially incriminating evidence against himself if asked to testify or otherwise answer questions about Daniels in that case.

"Based on the advice of counsel, I will assert my 5th amendment rights in connection with all proceedings in this case due to the ongoing criminal investigation by the FBI and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York," Cohen wrote in the declaration.

The invocation of Fifth Amendment privilege by a lawyer for the president of the United States is highly unusual.

Critics of Trump seized on Cohen's move by noting what the president has in the past said about people who invoke the Fifth.

"The mob takes the Fifth," Trump said in 2015 while campaigning for president. "If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?"