WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s newest lawyer said Tuesday that his previous lawyer Michael Cohen knows nothing damaging about Trump and therefore is of little value to federal prosecutors investigating him.
“He possesses no incriminating information about the president,” Rudy Giuliani told HuffPost, adding that any charges that may be filed against Cohen are unfortunate for him but would not affect Trump. “It’s of no consequence to the president.”
Giuliani said he nevertheless feels bad for Cohen and others, such as former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, for the “storm trooper tactics” prosecutors and the FBI have used when carrying out search warrants against them.
Cohen is under investigation by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. Manafort is accused of money laundering and making false statements by the office of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence agencies.
Giuliani, who was once the U.S. attorney for the same office investigating Cohen and later became New York’s mayor, acknowledged using predawn raids to execute search warrants — such as the one he claimed was used for Manafort — but never against white-collar suspects.
“I did that in organized crime cases. I did that in terrorism cases. I did that in murder cases,” Giuliani said. “I didn’t do that with respectable people.”
(In a court filing last month, Mueller’s office described the warrant as having authorized a search between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., which it said it complied with.)
He scoffed at the notion that the investigation into Manafort was a counterintelligence investigation, not a run-of-the-mill fraud probe. “In your dreams,” he said.
Cohen, after inquiring about the topic of questions from HuffPost, did not respond to follow-up queries.
He remains at the center of an investigation of how a porn star, Stormy Daniels, received $130,000 to remain quiet about an affair she said she had with Trump a decade ago. The payment came just days before the 2016 presidential election but was never reported as a campaign expense by Cohen or Trump. That payment has spawned a string of contradictory statements from Cohen, Trump and, in the past week, Giuliani.
Cohen originally claimed that he paid Daniels using his own money to protect Trump’s reputation. Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One last month that he did not know where the money had come from and suggested asking Cohen, whom Trump described as his lawyer.
But in a Fox News interview last week, Giuliani revealed that Trump repaid Cohen, arguing that it therefore could not have been a campaign finance violation. Trump followed up with series of tweets, in which he said the money came from a monthly retainer he paid Cohen.
Giuliani then told NBC News that Trump may not have known at the time of the payments to Cohen what the money was for, and in a subsequent interview with ABC News, Giuliani said Cohen may have similarly paid off other women too, although Giuliani said he did not have knowledge of that.
Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Daniels who is suing Trump to break the 2016 hush agreement, said he finds Giuliani’s comments about Cohen perplexing.
“Michael Cohen served as the personal attorney for Donald Trump for upwards of 12 years,” Avenatti said. “The idea that nothing improper that he did in that time period could blow back on Mr. Trump is absurd.”
Giuliani said he is pushing to wrap up the Russia probe by figuring out how best to have Trump respond to Mueller’s questions. Giuliani said a May 17 date he mentioned earlier was not a hard deadline for that decision but a goal. “We need some sort of deadline for this. It’s gone on forever,” he said. “It’s hurting the country.”
He said the only reason that Mueller was even appointed special counsel was that former FBI Director James Comey “illegally leaked” memos he wrote to a friend, making the whole investigation suspect, in Giuliani’s view. “Memos he writes are FBI property,” he said of Comey.
Trump fired Comey a year ago. The White House at first claimed that the reason was his improper conduct during an investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. But Trump soon told NBC News and top Russian diplomats visiting the Oval Office that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation.
Because Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from that investigation, Comey’s firing led Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint Mueller as a special counsel.
Giuliani said Tuesday that Trump was too busy for any extended interviews with Mueller’s investigators, given important negotiations regarding North Korea, Iran and China. “The president is pretty darned tied up right now,” Giuliani said.
On a broader level, notwithstanding the recent conflicting statements about Cohen and Daniels, Giuliani said he will have a much better relationship with Trump than his previous lawyers, some of whom were reportedly frustrated by his unwillingness to follow their advice.
“They didn’t know him for 30 years like I do. They didn’t help him get elected,” Giuliani said. “I know how to deal with him, and he knows how to deal with me.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that the raid of Manafort’s home took place before dawn. Mueller’s office said in a court filing last month that it complied with a warrant that authorized a search between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.