The bad news has been so unrelenting in last couple of weeks that it is causing a noticeable amount of resignation, panic, and defeatism on the left, but the Russia investigation has not gone away and there’s one thing the president absolutely cannot afford to see happen:
Michael Cohen — President Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney and a former executive vice president at the Trump Organization — has always insisted he would remain loyal to the president.
He was the fix-it guy, the pit bull so fiercely protective of his boss that he’d once described himself as “the guy who would take a bullet” for the president.
But in his first in-depth interview since the FBI raided his office and homes in April, Cohen strongly signaled his willingness to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York — even if that puts President Trump in jeopardy.
“My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will,” Cohen told me. “I put family and country first…To be crystal clear, my wife, my daughter and my son, and this country have my first loyalty.”
That’s a pretty clear signal that he’s going to flip unless Trump can help his family. But it got worse.
But Cohen did not praise the president during our conversation — and pointedly disagreed with Trump’s criticism of the federal investigations…
…When I asked Cohen how he might respond if the president or his legal team come after him — to try and discredit him and the work he did for Mr. Trump over the last decade — he sat up straight. His voice gained strength.
“I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone’s defense strategy,” he said emphatically. “I am not a villain of this story, and I will not allow others to try to depict me that way.”
That’s a long way from promising to take a bullet for the president. He called Trump “a villain.” And he wasn’t exactly trying to flatter him either, as you might expect him to do if here were still angling for a pardon:
On issue after issue, Cohen did, however, separate himself from President Trump -– starting with the president’s criticism of how the government has conducted its investigation.
After federal agents searched Cohen’s New York properties, Trump described the raid as a break-in, an “attack on our country, in a true sense. It’s an attack on what we all stand for.”
“I don’t agree with those who demonize or vilify the FBI. I respect the FBI as an institution, as well as their agents,” Cohen told me. “When they searched my hotel room and my home, it was obviously upsetting to me and my family. Nonetheless, the agents were respectful, courteous and professional. I thanked them for their service and as they left, we shook hands.”
Cohen also refused to criticize the Mueller investigation.
“I don’t like the term witch hunt,” he said, adding that he condemned Russia for interfering 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.
And in a direct rebuttal to President Trump, who sent out a tweet last week repeating Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russia did not interfere in our election, Cohen added this: “Simply accepting the denial of Mr. Putin is unsustainable.”
He’s not confessing, but he is promising to cooperate with the Mueller investigation and he only predicts that he himself will be exonerated in the Russia affair, without making the same assertion for his former boss.
Cohen also repeated his previous denials of any personal involvement with Russian attempts to interfere in our election, declaring that he never went to Prague, as alleged in the Steele dossier, and never colluded with the Russians in any way.
Although he has not been interviewed yet by Mueller’s team, he says he has provided documents and added that he would fully cooperate with them, just as he says he has with the Senate and House committees investigating the matter.
“I appeared under oath before the House Select Intelligence Committee for over six hours and to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee for over eight hours,” he says.
Cohen believes Mueller will not find any evidence that he had any illegal or improper dealings with the Russians.
Cohen would not defend the actions of Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, or Donald Trump Jr., nor would he answer when asked if he knew whether Trump Sr. knew about the infamous meeting with the Russians in Trump Tower.
But Cohen did criticize those members of the Trump campaign who participated in that now infamous Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016 with several Russians after being promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.
“I believe it was a mistake by those from the Trump campaign who did participate,” he said. “It was simply an example of poor judgment.”
When I asked Cohen if President Trump knew about that meeting before it happened, he declined to answer.
“I can’t comment under advice of my counsel due to the ongoing investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York,” Cohen said.
I don’t know that Trump can get himself out of this jam. If Cohen shares what he knows about the president, that’s going to dramatically change the political environment in this country. And I’m almost certain that it’s going to happen.