EXCLUSIVE: Michael Cohen says family and country, not President Trump, is his 'first loyalty'

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.”

We spoke for 45 minutes Saturday evening at a Manhattan hotel, where Cohen has been staying for the past several months. And during that time, the question of whether Cohen might flip on the president has been the subject of intense speculation.

Even the president weighed in, tweeting in April that “most people will flip if the government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that.”

He described Cohen as a “fine person with a wonderful family.”

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 directly what he would do if prosecutors forced him to choose between protecting the president and protecting his family, he said his family is “my first priority.”

Cohen added: “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.”

But when I pointed out to Cohen that he wasn’t repeating past vows to “take a bullet” and “do anything” to protect the president, the longtime Trump loyalist left little doubt about where he stands now, saying simply: “To be crystal clear, my wife, my daughter and my son, and this country have my first loyalty.”

Cohen recently retained Petrillo, a highly regarded former federal prosecutor who once led the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan -- the very same office currently conducting the criminal investigation of Cohen.

Petrillo is expected to take over as Cohen’s lead counsel in the coming days. And Cohen makes clear that his decision about whether to cooperate will be based not on any previous loyalty to Trump -- but on Petrillo’s legal advice.

Once Petrillo fully assumes his role, a joint defense agreement Cohen shared with the president, which allowed their lawyers to share information and documents with each other, will come to an end, ABC News has learned.

At that point, the legal interests of the president of the United States and his longtime personal attorney could quickly become adversarial.

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.”

Prosecutors in New York’s Southern District are investigating Cohen for alleged violations of election law and possible financial crimes associated with his personal business dealings.

He has not been charged with any crime. But on the advice of his attorney, Cohen declined to address specific questions about matters currently under investigation.


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