White House

Michael Cohen distances himself from President Trump: 'I put family and country first'

Key Points
  • Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, who once said he would do anything to protect the president, told ABC News in an interview released Monday that he now puts "family and country first."
  • Cohen was asked repeatedly if he was considering cooperating with prosecutors in their probe, and he responded that if he is charged with anything he would defer to his new lawyer in the case, Guy Petrillo, for advice.
  • Cohen repeated previous denials that he had any involvement with Russian attempts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, but he refused to criticize the investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller.
Michael Cohen, President Donald Trumps personal lawyer walks down Park Avenue in New York June 15, 2018 after leaving his hotel. -
Timothy A. Clary | AFP | Getty Images

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s embattled former lawyer, distanced himself from his longtime boss in an interview with ABC News.

“I put family and country first,” Cohen told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an off-camera interview published Monday.

Even when Stephanopoulos said he pointed out that Cohen had said little in Trump’s defense, Cohen skirted the opportunity to discuss the president.

“To be crystal clear, my wife, my daughter and my son, and this country have my first loyalty,” Cohen said.

It’s a marked shift in tone for Cohen, who had previously touted his role as Trump’s loyal and pugnacious fixer. But after FBI agents raided his properties in April, seizing thousands of items and sparking a lengthy court battle even before any charges have been filed, Cohen has reportedly been more amenable to working with federal prosecutors, ABC reported.

Trump lawyer Michael Cohen expected to lose defense team

Cohen’s lawyers recently completed their own review of the seized materials, concluding that more than 12,000 documents are protected by attorney-client privilege and therefore cannot be turned over to prosecutors.

But ABC reported that once Cohen’s new attorney, Guy Petrillo, takes the helm, an agreement to share information between lawyers for Cohen and Trump will come to an end. Petrillo did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

Cohen’s willingness to deal with the feds could have a major impact on special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, which in just over one year has already lodged charges against more than 20 people and companies and collected five guilty pleas.

Stephanopoulos said he asked Cohen repeatedly if he was considering cooperating with prosecutors in their probe. Cohen responded that if he is charged with anything he would defer to Petrillo for advice.

According to Cohen’s current lawyer in the case, Stephen Ryan, the raids came in part from a referral by Mueller to federal attorneys for the Southern District of New York. The New York Times reported that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the special counsel’s probe, signed off on the raids.

'I will not be a punching bag'

Cohen was also asked how he might respond if the president or his legal team came after him and tried to discredit the work he did for Trump over the last decade.

"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."

As the former executive vice president of the Trump Organization, Cohen could possess unique knowledge of Trump’s finances — an area Trump once said would be over the line for Mueller to investigate.

Stephanopoulos said Cohen also refused to provide cover for Trump in response to questions about a $130,000 payment he made to porn star Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election.

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

Cohen had previously said the deal, which barred Daniels from discussing an alleged affair with Trump, was not made at Trump’s request. Cohen and the White House have both denied that Trump had sex with Daniels, who is now suing both men to void the contract she signed.

Trump had vented rage following media reports of the April 9 raids, calling the actions “an attack on our country in a true sense.”

But Trump has not been a consistent defender of other figures connected to him who have come under the scrutiny of federal law enforcement.

After Paul Manafort was sent to jail pending trial on witness tampering charges from Mueller’s team, Trump appeared to distance himself from his former campaign chairman.

Trump tweet Manafort

Stephanopoulos said he asked Cohen whether he had any regrets about how he has handled any of the matters under investigation.

"As an attorney and as an employee, I tried to make good faith judgments in the past. I also acknowledge that I am not perfect. I would prefer not to be in this situation at all, obviously," he said.

Cohen added: "I want to regain my name and my reputation and my life back.”

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.