President Trump’s allies sought to discredit his former attorney, Michael Cohen, after a week of escalating clashes that raised the question of how much Mr. Cohen may be prepared to divulge about his former boss.
Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s lawyer, called Mr. Cohen a “pathological manipulator” and “a liar” on Fox News following reports Mr. Cohen is prepared to allege Mr. Trump knew about a meeting during the 2016 campaign in which his eldest son sought damaging information about Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
Last week, Mr. Trump said that he had no prior knowledge of the meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer, which Donald Trump Jr. had attended in the hope of collecting negative information about Mrs. Clinton.
Mr. Cohen’s reported willingness to contradict the president widens a growing rift between the two men and suggests he is prepared to cooperate with the government and share details about Mr. Trump’s personal and professional dealings. Faced with this prospect, Mr. Trump’s attorneys and associates have sought to depict Mr. Cohen as a flawed witness whose word can’t be trusted.
Mr. Cohen joined the Trump Organization as a lawyer in 2006 and ultimately transitioned into his self-described role as Mr. Trump’s fixer, a position that gave him a unique window onto Mr. Trump’s practices.
The falling out comes as Mr. Cohen faces an investigation for bank fraud and possible campaign-finance violations by federal prosecutors in New York City. Federal investigators are also probing his efforts to quash negative publicity for Mr. Trump during the 2016 campaign. Mr. Cohen has denied wrongdoing and hasn’t been charged with any crimes.
Last Monday, a former federal judge overseeing a review of materials seized in an April raid of Mr. Cohen’s premises released 12 audio recordings to federal investigators, after Mr. Trump withdrew objections.
The following day, CNN obtained one of these audio recordings, in which Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump appear to discuss a payment to a former Playboy model who alleged she had an affair with Mr. Trump. Representatives of Mr. Trump have denied the affair took place.
Mr. Cohen made a practice over the years of recording private meetings in lieu of taking notes, according to his attorney, Lanny Davis. “He had no intention of ever publicizing such tapes nor any intention to ever deceive anyone,” Mr. Davis said last week.
Mr. Davis on Sunday declined to comment on the criticism aimed at Mr. Cohen.
Appearing on news shows Sunday morning, Mr. Giuliani worked to undercut Mr. Cohen and the impact of the recordings. He told Fox News that Mr. Cohen is “capable, I think, unfortunately, of doctoring tapes.”
In May, Mr. Giuliani said in an interview with ABC News that Mr. Cohen was an “honest, honorable lawyer.”
“The president feels disappointed,” Mr. Giuliani said on Fox News. “We have assured him in a very strange way. This is a very good development, because we do have all these tapes and these tapes will completely demonstrate the president did nothing wrong.”
Appearing Sunday on ABC, Chris Christie, a former New Jersey governor and a former adviser to the Trump campaign, admonished Mr. Cohen and his advisers of the apparent leak about the recording of the payment.
“It is not in Michael Cohen’s best interests when he does not have a deal yet,” Mr. Christie said.
The rift between Messrs. Cohen and Trump has been evolving over the past year and a half, when the new president shut out Mr. Cohen from a White House post he believed he deserved, according to people familiar with his thinking. In a conversation with the president late last year, Mr. Cohen told him: “Boss, I miss you so much,” according to a person familiar with the call. “I wish I was down there with you.”
By early last week, the split seemed irrevocable. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Davis said: “Whoever is seeking the truth about whatever is under investigation, Mr. Cohen is going to speak the truth.”