In a meandering interview on Fox & Friends Thursday morning that turned at times into an angry phone rant, President Trump admitted that Michael Cohen represented him in the Stormy Daniels case and confirmed he stayed overnight in a Moscow hotel, contradicting a claim he made to then-FBI Director James Comey.
Cohen, Trump's longtime personal attorney, said in a court filing in California on Wednesday that he would invoke the Fifth Amendment in a lawsuit filed by Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, over a $130,000 payment made days before the election to silence her claims about an alleged affair with Trump. Trump has previously stated that he didn't know anything about the payment and denied his involvement in the settlement, but admitted to the hosts of Fox & Friends that Cohen had represented him on the case.
"Michael would represent me and represent me on some things. He represents me… like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal, he represented me," Trump said, adding that he has many lawyers working for him. From what he has seen, the president said, Cohen did "absolutely nothing wrong."
"Then why is he pleading the Fifth?" cohost Ainsley Earhardt asked.
"Because he's got other things. He's got businesses. And from what I understand they're looking at his businesses," Trump responded. "I have nothing to do with his business, I can tell you." Appearing on MSNBC's Morning Joe Thursday during Trump's interview, Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, responded to Trump's admission that Cohen represented him on the case.
"Another gift from the heavens in this case," Avenatti said. "It's a hugely damaging admission by the president."
Trump made another surprising statement later in the interview, admitting that he had in fact stayed overnight in a Moscow hotel in 2013. The admission contradicts memos made by Comey about a conversation with Trump regarding the evening in question. The president told Comey that salacious claims in an intelligence dossier about a night he spent at the hotel were impossible, because "he had spoken to people who had been on… the trip with him and they had reminded him that he didn't stay over night in Russia for that."
"He said I didn't stay there at night. Of course I stayed there," Trump said of Comey's memo. "His memo said, 'I left immediately.' I never said that. I never said I left immediately."
Earlier this week, Bloomberg uncovered flight records that revealed Trump's plane was in Moscow for more than 24 hours during the weekend of the Miss Universe Pageant. Former MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts, who hosted the pageant that year, confirmed to the Daily Beast that Trump had indeed stayed overnight.
Fox & Friends has often been a safe landing spot for Trump, who has repeatedly referred to it as his favorite news program. But Thursday, the hosts were surprisingly tough, interjecting often and asking follow-up questions, such as when the president complained about the Justice Department not doing its job.
"It's your Justice Department!" cohost Steve Doocy exclaimed. "Mr. President, you're the Republican in charge and you've got a Republican running it."
Trump responded: "Because of the fact that they have this witch hunt going on with people in the Justice Department that shouldn't be there… I've taken the position… that I will not be involved with the Justice Department." Later in the interview, after saying he tries to stay away from the Justice Department, he added: "But pretty soon I won't."
In recent months, President Trump has largely avoided television interviews, choosing instead to communicate through Twitter. He's even avoided the opinion hosts on Fox News, which remain largely supportive of him and his administration. Trump's last on-camera interview on the network was back in November, when he sat down with Laura Ingraham. He last called into Fox News in February to discuss the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election on Justice With Judge Jeanine host Jeanine Pirro.
"The president is bunkered down… almost in hiding, avoiding the media," CNN Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter said Thursday morning.
Despite his affinity for Fox News, Trump hasn't sat for an interview with anyone from the news side of Fox News since before he was elected president. The avoidance led Special Report host Bret Baier to take the unusual step of addressing Trump directly on a show last August and publicly requesting he appear for an interview.
"President Trump, I assume you know you will be treated fairly here and, of course, asked tough but fair questions," Baier said. "I look forward to getting you back on the number-one news show on the number-one news channel very soon."