It’s hard to know how Donald Trump could have possibly done more damage to himself in his ongoing legal battles than he did on Thursday morning during a ruinous interview on Fox & Friends.
First, Trump wanted to distance himself from his longtime fixer Michael Cohen by making it perfectly clear Cohen was actually more of a businessman than a lawyer. Therefore, in Trump’s mind, Cohen’s legal issues related to business dealings were none of his own concern.
“Michael is in business, he’s really a businessman, a fairly big business, as I understand it,” Trump said. “And [investigators] are looking at something having to do with his business. I have nothing to do with his business.”
Of course, that would mean many of the communications between Cohen and Trump wouldn’t fall under attorney-client privilege. So a helpful Fox & Friends interviewer tried to pull Trump out of the legal trap he was setting for himself, saying, “But isn’t his business your attorney, Mr. President?”
Trump responded, “I have many many attorneys,” adding that Cohen handled only “a tiny, tiny little fraction” of his legal work.
Great. In other words, only “a tiny, tiny little fraction” of the materials seized in the FBI raid of Cohen’s premises will be shielded by attorney-client privilege, which is exactly what federal prosecutors had argued in court several weeks ago.
As former U.S. Attorney Seth Waxman later told MSNBC, now federal investigators will be “hammering that point at every turn with the special master and ultimately with Judge [Kimba] Wood to say, Look, he’s not even acting as an attorney.” In fact, they already did, mere hours later.
Having already dealt a blow to his own legal position in the criminal investigation, Trump decided to clarify where Cohen did represent him as a lawyer—in the civil proceeding with adult film star Stormy Daniels.
“He represents me, like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal, he represented me,” Trump noted. “And from what I see, he did absolutely nothing wrong—there were no campaign funds going into this, which would have been problem.”
A problem, eh? Thanks for that confirmation, Donnie.
Of course, both Trump and Cohen had previously argued that, actually, Trump had no knowledge whatsoever of the Stormy Daniels situation and/or payment. On Air Force One earlier this month, Trump finally broke his silence on the Daniels case to say, “No,” he didn’t know anything about the $130,000 hush-money payment to the adult film star with whom he allegedly had an affair.
Now, Trump’s on record saying Cohen did indeed represent him in the matter on which Cohen—just yesterday—asserted his Fifth Amendment rights not to testify on grounds that he might incriminate himself. Impeccable timing, Trump!
On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti called Trump’s morning comments “hugely damaging.”
Avenatti explained why, later on Thursday, as he took questions outside the New York courthouse where the federal judge in Cohen’s criminal case had just appointed a “special master” to review the materials seized in the FBI raids.
“There’s no question it implicates him,” Avenatti said of Trump in the Daniels case. “I do not believe there is any way you can reconcile what the president said on Fox & Friends with his statements on Air Force One with the prior statements of Michael Cohen—those are all irreconcilable and that is a significant serious problem for Michael Cohen and the president.”
Avenatti added, “I think the president should appear on Fox & Friends every morning.”
You can watch Avenatti here:
— CBS News (@CBSNews) April 26, 2018
And Trump’s fateful Fox phoner:
— Fox News (@FoxNews) April 26, 2018