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Trump downplays Michael Cohen relationship, hints at more active role at Justice Department

President Trump started his day Thursday by calling into Fox and Friends Thursday morning and sounded off on all sorts of topics, from his personal attorney Michael Cohen to the activities of the Justice Department. Yamiche Alcindor joins John Yang to discuss the president’s comments.

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  • John Yang:

    President Trump started his day on the phone, calling into what seems to be his favorite show, "Fox and Friends." The president sounded off on all sorts of things, from the investigation into his personal attorney, to the activities of the Justice Department. Here to walk us through all of what the president said, our White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor.

    So, quite a way to start the morning, Yamiche.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    This was a pretty long phone call from the president. He talked about Hillary Clinton in that election. He sounded like he could have talked for several hours.

    At one point, the FOX News host asked the president about his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Cohen recently said he would plead the Fifth in a lawsuit filed against the president by porn star Stormy Daniels. This morning, Trump seemed to distance himself from Cohen and downplayed the work that Cohen did for him.

    (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

  • President Donald Trump:

    Well, as a percentage of my overall legal work, a tiny little fraction, but my goal would represent me and represent me on some things. He represents me like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal. He represented me, and I hope he's in great shape. But he's got businesses, and his lawyers probably told him to do that.

    But I'm not involved, and I'm not involved. And I've been told I'm not involved.

    (END AUDIO CLIP)

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    This was rally important, because the president — his words were used against Michael Cohen today. The lawyers for the federal prosecution, which, of course, affect criminal case involving Michael Cohen where he's being accused of bank fraud, they wrote a letter to the judge saying, look, the president is saying that he only did a little bit of work for — that Michael Cohen only did a little bit of work for him, we should be able to see these documents and there won't be that much privilege. And the judge said, you know what, we're going to have a special master, which is not what Cohen's lawyers wanted.

    Now, this is seen by legal experts as a good win, because the president's lawyers and Michael Cohen's lawyers wanted an independent person to go through all those documents that were seized during that raid. So, it's in some ways, it's kind of a win-win. But the other problem is, though, that the president is out here talking. He's out here giving these interviews, and that's problematic for Michael Cohen because he's contradicted him on all sorts of things.

    And I should say, legal experts tell me that if they had a client like President Trump, they would be in real problems because you want someone who will control your client and not contradict somebody that's in federal — that's involved in a federal investigation.

  • John Yang:

    And it wasn't there — it didn't end there. There was — there was more.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Yes, the president took aim, as he often does, at the Justice Department. He hinted that he might take a more active role in the agency's investigation.

    (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

  • President Donald Trump:

    I'm very disappointed in my Justice Department, but because of the fact that it's going on, and I think you'll understand this, I have decided that I won't be involved. I may change my mind at some point, because what's going on is a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace.

    (END AUDIO CLIP)

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Now, again, this is kind of typical of the president. We've seen him talk about the FBI, especially the top tier of the FBI, saying that they are crooked, that they're corrupt, that they're out to get him, that there's a witch-hunt.

    But it's important that the president is saying, I might take a more active role. That means he could maybe fire Robert Mueller. That means he could maybe fire other people. So, people are very worried, and the legal experts I talked to said that we should watch for things like this because it could be little crumbs that he's leaving for what he could do.

    But I should say, just to turn back to Stormy Daniels and her lawyer, her lawyer was really happy today. He said that this is kind of stunning that President Trump is out here giving these interviews, talking about these things. He said it's making their case stronger and stronger by the day. So, it's really problematic in some ways, at least that's what legal experts tell me.

  • John Yang:

    And the opposing lawyer is happy about that. What about the White House lawyers? What about Trump's lawyers?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    So, from the White House perspective, I talked to them, they said, you have to go to the personal lawyers. They want nothing to do with this. Trump's personal lawyer has been very, very tight-lipped.

    Stephen Ryan said he was OK with the special master, that he was a fine pick. She's a retired federal judge. They're not upset about that.

    But, really, a lot of people aren't talking. I talked to so many or tried to talk to so many lawyers there, or secretaries, their PR people, and no one really wanted to talk about this. And that probably goes back to the idea that the president is someone that's hard to control and his lawyers are trying to figure out what to say when he's giving 15-minute-long interviews to "Fox and Friends."

  • John Yang:

    White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor, thanks so much.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thanks.

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