Michael Cohen is no longer a 'punching bag' for Donald Trump's defense strategy, Lanny Davis says

Key Points
  • Lanny Davis, the new lawyer for President Donald Trump's ex-attorney Michael Cohen, said Cohen is done with being Trump's "bullet taker" or "punching bag for" Trump's defense strategy.
  • Trump fumed on Twitter a day after an audio tape was aired revealing his discussing a possible hush money payment for the story of Playboy model Karen McDougal, who says she had an affair with Trump.
  • Melania Trump's spokeswoman refused to say if the first lady listened to the tape.
Michael Cohen
Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Lanny Davis, the new lawyer for President Donald Trump's ex-attorney Michael Cohen, said Cohen is done with being Trump's "bullet taker" or a "punching bag for" Trump's defense strategy, as prosecutors scrutinize both men's dealings.

"Where are we headed? The truth," Davis said to NBC News shortly after releasing an audio tape made by Cohen revealing Trump talking in matter-of-fact terms about potentially paying hush money to an alleged mistress shortly before the 2016 presidential election. CNN unveiled the recording late Tuesday night.

"Michael Cohen has decided: 'No matter what happens to me, I'm going to get my life back by telling the truth," said Davis, a veteran crisis manager and advisor to President Bill Clinton during his scandals in the 1990s.

"Cohen is trying to reset his life as not being Donald Trump's bullet taker, or worse, a punching bag for Donald Trump's defense strategy where he takes the bullets," Davis added. "This is a turn for him. It's a new resolve to tell the truth no matter what, even if it endangers him."

He also said Cohen "has more truth to tell."

Meanwhile on Wednesday, Trump fumed on Twitter about the recording.


Despite Trump's speculation about the recording being cut off, Davis said CNN had aired the entirety of the tape.

Split with Trump

Cohen had been Trump's personal attorney and fixer for years. He once boasted of being willing to "take a bullet" for Trump.

But in recent months, their relationship has apparently come undone as Cohen has become the target of an ongoing criminal probe by federal prosecutors in New York City, where FBI agents raided his residences and office in April.

Cohen's hiring of Davis, who is a close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and other moves have increased speculation that he will begin cooperating with prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, and possibly with Robert Mueller, the special counsel. Mueller is investigating Russian interference in the presidential election and the Trump campaign's contacts with Russians during the campaign.

Asked by NBC what he planned to do with either federal prosecutors in New York, or with Mueller, Davis said, "I cannot answer that question."

Davis said the same thing — "I cannot answer that question" — when asked if Cohen has been in contact with prosecutors in New York.

Those prosecutors are eyeing, among other things, a $130,000 hush money payment Cohen made to porn star Stormy Daniels on the eve of the election, as well as a payment by the publisher of The National Enquirer for McDougal's story, which the Trump-friendly supermarket tabloid never published.

Trump reimbursed Cohen for the payout to Daniels, and discussed buying out The Enquirer's rights to McDougal's story — but never did so, according to current Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Another shell company revealed

The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday reported that Cohen planned to use a shell company called Resolution Consultants which he created in Delaware in September 2016, to buy the rights to McDougal's tale. The Journal previously reported that Cohen dissolved Resolution Consultants on Oct. 17, 2016, the same day he created another shell company, Essential Consultants, that was used to pay Daniels.

Both women have said they had affairs with Trump that began in 2006. The White House has denied Trump had sex with either women.

Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for Melania Trump, on Wednesday refused to answer whether the first lady listened to the tape when it aired.

Grisham told NBC News such a question "seems kind of silly" in light of the facts that "every 15 minutes a baby" is born detoxing from opiods, that "160,000 kids ... skip school every day for fear of being bullied, or that 280,000 students are physically attacked in schools every month."

Prosecutors are looking into whether the payments to Daniels and McDougal constituted violations of federal campaign finance laws because they were not disclosed as contributions to Trump's election effort. Experts have said that because the payments kept the women quiet about their claims related to Trump before the election, it benefited his campaign.

“This tape, you could say, is a discussion about hush money," Davis told NBC shortly after the recording was aired. "It’s a discussion about paying money to control adverse information that might come out before an election."

Davis did not immediately respond to requests for comment by CNBC.

Giuliani has called the tape "exculpatory" for Trump.

Cohen has not been charged with any crime.