He now sounds very ready to leap.
In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos posted Monday morning, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer sent his clearest signal to date that he is prepared to flip on Trump. But while there have certainly been others recently, this one came from the horse’s mouth.
“Once I understand what charges might be filed against me, if any at all, I will defer to my new counsel, Guy Petrillo, for guidance,” Cohen said.
Pressed on his past commentary about being willing to do anything for Trump, Cohen again hinted at flipping: “To be crystal clear, my wife, my daughter and my son, and this country have my first loyalty.”
Cohen agreed to this interview knowing that this would be a prominent question. And it can’t have been a coincidence that a trio of stories emerged a couple weeks back, all pointing toward considering flipping on Trump. There was a Wall Street Journal story indicating that he was unhappy with Trump for not helping with his legal bills. CNN quoted an anonymous source close to him saying, “If they want information on Trump, he’s willing to give it.” Then Cohen resigned as deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee by citing not just the investigation he faces, but his disagreement with the Trump administration’s policy of separating families at the border. That latter justification seemed thrown in to send a message from a guy who has pledged complete loyalty to Trump and never really spoken publicly about policy.
So a message is clearly being sent; the question is why. Is Cohen truly prepared to flip, or are all these signals being sent in the name of forcing some action from Trump — whether through paying legal bills or something more absolute, such as a pardon?
If it’s the latter, it doesn’t seem to be working. The signs that Cohen may flip date back months, to shortly after he was raided by federal investigators. There does seem to be more of a concerted effort since Cohen retained Petrillo, a veteran of the Southern District of New York, with which Cohen would be cutting a deal. Thus far, it doesn’t seem to have elicited the reaction that is being sought.
And in fact, the opposite seems to have occurred. Trump and the White House have minimized Cohen and suggested that his legal problems have nothing to do with it. Asked by Stephanopoulos about that treatment, Cohen grew rigid and assured. “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.”
Is Trump unconcerned about what Cohen might provide? Has he just been blind to the signs? Does he not think he can pardon Cohen or pay his legal bills, politically speaking? Or is this just part of the intense (if thoroughly and strangely Trumpian) public negotiations that are going on around this whole thing right now?
There are so many questions. But now a threat has clearly and unequivocally been made. Cohen has put the ball in Trump’s court.