Speculation over the possibility that President Donald Trump's former attorney could cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the president intensified on Monday, as details of ABC's in-depth interview with Michael Cohen came to light.
Cohen, who is under federal investigation for potential campaign finance violations and bank fraud regarding the payment he has claimed he personally made to adult film star Stormy Daniels on behalf of Trump in October 2016, told Stephanopoulos that shielding the president from the Mueller investigation is far from his top priority.
"My wife, my daughter, and my son have my first loyalty and always will," Cohen told Stephanopoulos Saturday at a New York hotel in a 45-minute off-camera discussion. "I put family and country first."
The declaration was a far cry from earlier statements made by Cohen. Last year, he told Vanity Fair that he would "take a bullet" for his longtime client.
Stephanopoulos gave details of the interview on "Good Morning America."
In @GStephanopoulos' exclusive interview with Pres. Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen, Cohen stays mum on commitment to his longtime client: “To be crystal clear, my wife, my daughter and my son, and this country have my first loyalty.” https://t.co/V7gE1FomMf pic.twitter.com/TPu7kkiOpJ
— Good Morning America (@GMA) July 2, 2018
Cohen gave the interview shortly after hiring former federal prosecutor Guy Petrillo as his new attorney—bringing to an end an arrangement between his lawyers and Trump's in which the two legal teams shared information.
When Stephanopoulos asked Cohen what he would do should Trump try to discredit him as he has with many of his opponents, Cohen was clear.
"I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone's defense strategy," he said. "I am not a villain of this story, and I will not allow others to try to depict me that way."
This extremely weird Michael Cohen interview has an audience of one
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) July 2, 2018
The interview comes nearly three months after the FBI raided Cohen's office and home, after Mueller referred his case to the U.S. District Attorney's office in New York. The president immediately came to Cohen's defense after the raid, calling it an "attack on our country."
Cohen vehemently disagreed in his conversation with Stephanopoulos, saying "I don't agree with those who demonize or vilify the FBI...I respect the prosecutors. I respect the process. I would not do or say anything that might be perceived as interfering with their professional review of the evidence and the facts."
The former executive vice president of the Trump Organization also pushed back on Trump's characterization of the Mueller probe as a "witch hunt" and said he accepted the "unanimous conclusions" reached by U.S. intelligence agencies indicating that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.
"As an American, I repudiate Russia's or any other foreign government's attempt to interfere or meddle in our democratic process, and I would call on all Americans to do the same," he said.