'My first loyalty is to family, not to Trump,' says his former lawyer
Advisers fear 'fixer' Cohen a legal threat after interview U-turn
President Donald Trump faces a mounting legal threat from his one-time lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen.
For the first time Mr Cohen has signalled his willingness to co-operate with prosecutors, even if doing so would undercut the interests of the president.
Mr Cohen's allies have suggested in recent weeks that the Manhattan lawyer has felt abandoned by the president as he faced a federal investigation of his personal finances.
But a 45-minute off-camera interview with ABC News's George Stephanopoulos published on Monday represented a distinct escalation - a message to investigators that he is ready to deal. "My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will," Mr Cohen told Stephanopoulos, according to a story on the network's website.
Reminded that he had previously vowed to "take a bullet" or "do anything" to protect the president, Mr Cohen said Mr Trump was not his top priority.
"To be crystal clear, my wife, my daughter and my son, and this country, have my first loyalty," he said.
Mr Cohen complained to friends last month that Mr Trump refers to their relationship in the past tense and that he is being forced to pay his own legal bills. He also sees himself as "collateral damage", one person who spent time with him in June said. No moment in the investigation infuriated Mr Trump more than the raid on Mr Cohen's home, office and hotel room, several officials said.
Mr Cohen is under intensifying scrutiny from federal prosecutors who are examining his business practices, as well as from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating episodes involving Mr Cohen as part of his probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who has at times been supportive of Trump through the special counsel investigation, said Mr Cohen probably had several audiences in mind during the interview. "The president has the option of pardoning him, the prosecutor has the option of giving him immunity. The Southern District has the option of giving him a deal," he said.
"The one big mystery is whether he knows anything that can be helpful to the prosecutors or hurtful to the president."
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred questions about Mr Cohen's interview to Mr Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who did not return calls for comment.
Some in Mr Trump's orbit said the interview was a miscalculation if it was an attempt to reach out to the president - whom Mr Cohen had served since 2007 - for attention, financial support or even a pardon that would end Mr Cohen's legal predicament. "I think it's a cry for help and a cry for attention," said one person close to the Trump Organisation. "Every time the story dies down, he seems to want to reignite it."
Another said Mr Cohen had never been given major responsibilities at the real estate firm that served as Trump's springboard to the White House. "Is anyone at the Trump Organisation lying awake at night worrying that Michael is flipping? No," the person said.
Mr Trump himself has insisted to associates in recent months that Mr Cohen was only a minor player in his business.
Mr Cohen did not respond to requests for comment.
The new assessments of his role in Mr Trump's world stand in contrast to years of company profiles that depicted Mr Cohen as a close adviser entrusted with sensitive tasks, and as a confidant not just of Mr Trump but of his eldest children.
Mr Trump has been occupied in recent days with a Supreme Court vacancy but his advisers have privately told him that Mr Cohen could be dangerous.
Mr Stephanopoulos said that Mr Cohen, who has not been charged in connection with either probe, came across "as his own man" during the interview and that the lawyer said he will "not be a punching bag" if Mr Trump's team tries to discredit him as part of a legal strategy. (© Washington Post)