In an exclusive interview with ABC News published Monday, Michael Cohen, the embattled former personal lawyer of Donald Trump, for whom Cohen once said he'd "take a bullet," told George Stephanopoulos that ultimately his family and his country deserve his loyalty, not the president.
In his first in-depth interview since the FBI raided his office, home and hotel room in April, Cohen "strongly signaled," as Stephanopoulos rightly describes it, that he was planning on working with federal prosecutors in New York and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, even if that ends up doing damage to President Trump.
"My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will. I put family and country first," Cohen told Stephanopoulos in a 45-minute sit-down on Saturday.
Stephanopoulos, a former senior advisor to President Bill Clinton, underscores in his write-up of the interview that Cohen never once praised the president in the conversation — and, in fact, indirectly rebuked Trump in his defense of the federal investigations.
When Stephanopoulos floated the hypothetical scenario of Trump's legal team trying to discredit Cohen and the work he did for Trump, Cohen sat up straight and spoke with more intensity. "I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone's defense strategy," he said with emphasis. "I am not a villain of this story, and I will not allow others to try to depict me that way."
Cohen also made clear that he respects the prosecutors and the process, another strong signal that he plans to work with Mueller and the Manhattan office. "I respect the prosecutors. I respect the process," said Cohen. "I would not do or say anything that might be perceived as interfering with their professional review of the evidence and the facts."
Cohen also sharply diverged from Trump on the FBI, whom Trump slammed for their raids on Cohen's office and homes. "I don’t agree with those who demonize or vilify the FBI. I respect the FBI as an institution, as well as their agents," said Cohen. He likewise rebuked Trump's criticism of the Mueller investigation. "I don’t like the term witch hunt," he said.
Cohen has recently retained Guy Petrillo, who once led the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan, the office investigating Cohen. When Petrillo fully takes the lead, notes Stephanopoulos, the current joint defense agreement between Cohen and Trump will come to an end. "At that point, the legal interests of the president of the United States and his longtime personal attorney could quickly become adversarial," writes Stephanopoulos.