WASHINGTON — President Trump distanced himself from his longtime lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, on Thursday, saying that a federal criminal investigation was focused on Mr. Cohen’s business dealings and had nothing to do with his legal representation of the president.
The president acknowledged that Mr. Cohen represents him in connection with Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic film actress known as Stormy Daniels who has asserted that she had extramarital sexual relations with Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen paid Ms. Clifford $130,000 shortly before the 2016 presidential election as part of what she now calls a “hush agreement.”
But Mr. Trump said Mr. Cohen did nothing wrong in that matter. Mr. Cohen handled just “a tiny, tiny little fraction” of his legal work, Mr. Trump said. “But Michael would represent me and represent me on some things,” the president said in a telephone call to “Fox & Friends,” his favorite cable television show. “He represents me, like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal, he represented me.”
“From what I see,” he continued, “he did absolutely nothing wrong. There were no campaign funds going into this, which would have been a problem.”
“From what I understand, they’re looking at his businesses,” he added. Discussing Mr. Cohen’s decision to decline to testify in a lawsuit by Ms. Clifford, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, Mr. Trump said he was probably just following the advice of his own lawyers. “I’m not involved, and I’ve been told I’m not involved.”
The president’s mention of Ms. Clifford by name — or at least her professional name — was striking because he has mainly shown restraint in not discussing her.
And his comments about Mr. Cohen were among his most extensive since the F.B.I. raided the lawyer’s office, apartment and hotel room after obtaining a warrant from a federal court. Mr. Trump complained on Twitter afterward that the raid meant that “attorney-client privilege is dead!” But his remarks on Fox suggested that the investigation did not involve Mr. Cohen’s legal work.
“Michael is a businessman, he’s got a business. He also practices law,” Mr. Trump said. “And they’re looking at something having to do with his business. I have nothing to do with his business.”
He was not asked if he would consider a pardon for Mr. Cohen. When another journalist asked that at the White House earlier in the week, Mr. Trump snapped, “Stupid question.”
Michael Avenatti, Ms. Clifford’s attorney, quickly seized on the president’s comments, suggesting they would help her lawsuit trying to nullify the 2016 nondisclosure agreement by proving Mr. Trump’s involvement in the effort to keep her quiet before the election.
“Thank you @foxandfriends for having Mr. Trump on this morning to discuss Michael Cohen and our case,” he wrote on Twitter. “Very informative.”
He went on MSNBC and CNN to reinforce his point. “This case gets better every day, every hour, and one of the reasons why it gets better is that they step into every trap that we lay,” Mr. Avenatti said on CNN.
“The president’s statements this morning are very, very damaging to him in our case,” Mr. Avenatti added. “It directly contradicts what he said on Air Force One relating to his knowledge, or lack thereof, of the agreement of $130,000.”
He said that “it is going to add considerable momentum to our efforts to depose the president and place him under oath, because now we have two contrary statements, made within the same month, relating to what he knew about the agreement, what he didn’t know, what his relationship was with Michael Cohen and we’re going to utilize that statement today to argue for his deposition.”
The federal investigation is said to be focusing on hush-money paymentsthat Mr. Cohen made to or helped arrange for Ms. Clifford and Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who has also said she had an affair with Mr. Trump. Despite his comments on Thursday, Mr. Trump’s advisers have concluded that the investigation into Mr. Cohen poses a greater threat than even the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
The president’s discussion of Mr. Cohen’s legal troubles came during an expansive, wide-ranging and at times rambling half-hour telephone interview on Fox. At times, it sounded as if he was shouting into the phone.
Without being asked, Mr. Trump hit on many of his favorite subjects, including his win in the Electoral College in 2016, the no-knock F.B.I. raidon the home of his former campaign chairman, Paul J. Manafort, and a CNN debate during the Democratic primaries in 2016 when Hillary Clinton’s campaign got advance warning of some of the questions, according to emails stolen by Russians and released by WikiLeaks.
Unprompted, he attacked former Secretary of State John Kerry (“the worst negotiator I’ve ever seen”), “Sleepy Eyes” Chuck Todd of “Meet the Press” on NBC News (“the guy shouldn’t even be on the show”) and Andrew G. McCabe, the fired former deputy director of the F.B.I. (part of a “crooked” bureau leadership). And the president indicated that he had watched a CNN town-hall-style program on Wednesday night featuring James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director he fired last year, who is now one of his toughest critics (“a lying leaker”).
Even the Fox hosts seemed concerned as the president railed at length about the “fake news” media. “I’m not your doctor, Mr. President, but I would recommend you watch less of them,” one of the hosts, Brian Kilmeade, told him.
Mr. Trump presented himself as the victim of a far-reaching conspiracy by an establishment out to stop him from changing the system. “I’m fighting a battle against a horrible group of deep-seated people, drain the swamp, that are coming up with all sorts of phony charges against me, and they’re not bringing up real charges against the other side,” he said. “So we have a phony deal going on, and it’s a cloud over my head.”
Nonetheless, he gave himself an “A-plus” for his first 15 months in office — pointing to the tax cuts he signed into law, his efforts to roll back business and environmental regulations and his appointment of Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court — despite Mr. Mueller’s investigation into whether there were ties between his campaign and Russia in 2016 and whether he has obstructed justice since then.
“Everyone knows it’s a fix, O.K.?” Mr. Trump said. “It’s a witch hunt. And they know that and I’ve been able to massage it. I would give myself an A-plus. Nobody has done what I’ve been able to do, and I did it despite the fact that I have a phony cloud over my head.”
The president raised again his disappointment with the Justice Department and said the special counsel investigation and raids on his former associates’ properties were a “disgrace.” He said he had tried not to interfere in Justice Department matters, which in many past administrations have been protected from political interference. But he warned that “at some point, I won’t.”
Mr. Trump has for months encouraged the Justice Department to investigate his political rivals. “Our Justice Department should be looking at that kind of stuff, not the nonsense of collusion with Russia,” Mr. Trump said. “There is no collusion with me and Russia.”
He asserted that Mr. Mueller’s office is a coven of Democrats out to get him. “If you take a look, they’re so conflicted, the people that are doing the investigation, you have 13 people that are Democrats, you have Hillary Clinton people, you have people that worked on Hillary Clinton’s foundation,” he said. “I don’t mean Democrats, I mean, like, the real deal.”
Mr. Mueller, a longtime Republican who was appointed F.B.I. director by President George W. Bush, has assembled a team of career prosecutors and veteran lawyers, some of whom while in the private sector gave contributions to Mrs. Clinton or President Barack Obama. Mr. Mueller’s defenders say he recruited his team based on expertise and skill, not on partisan affiliations.
Democrats cited the president’s latest attacks on the Justice Department and Mr. Mueller’s office to argue for legislation approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday to bar Mr. Trump from firing Mr. Mueller without cause. That bill now goes to the full Senate.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said Mr. Trump’s comments were “embarrassing to America.” Continue