President Trump’s interview Thursday on “Fox & Friends,” in which he blasted the Justice Department and admitted for the first time publicly that his personal attorney represented him in a hush-money payout to a porn star, was ill-advised even if it didn’t immediately place him in legal jeopardy, specialists said.
“He’s unmoored, is the only way to describe it,” said Nancy Gertner, a retired federal judge who now teaches at Harvard Law School.
Gertner, who’s emerged as a high-profile critic of Trump among legal scholars, said she was taken aback by comments the president made that “suggest he plans to obstruct justice or is motivated to obstruct justice.”
Trump’s tone was heated during his call-in appearance on the show, slamming the Justice Department for its handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election, while insisting he hasn’t intervened in DOJ operations — yet.
‘‘I am 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,’’ Trump said. ‘‘I may change my mind at some point because what’s going on is a disgrace.’’
Gertner said those comments point to a larger, troubling pattern.
“The attack on the DOJ is part and parcel of a case about obstruction of justice, part of the pastiche of things that he has said that indicates that he wants to obstruct this investigation,” Gertner said. “If he fires [Deputy Attorney General Rod] Rosenstein, or reshuffles the department, or fires Mueller . . . it would put those actions in context, which would be part of an effort to obstruct an investigation.”
She said Trump’s comments also demonstrate why he shouldn’t give an interview to Mueller.
“The conversation with Mueller could well give rise to . . . charges if he lies, and that’s a tremendously vulnerable situation to put someone in who seems who seems to have a very loose relationship with the truth,” Gertner said, “who will go on television and just rant. . . . All you need to do is put him in the room with a lawyer, and who knows where he’d go? That was incredible to listen to.”
Trump also raised eyebrows when he acknowledged that Cohen, his longtime personal lawyer, represented him in dealings with Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who claims she had a sexual relationship with the president in 2006. The White House has repeatedly denied allegations of an affair between Daniels and Trump.
Earlier this month, the president denied knowing Cohen had arranged a $130,000 payment to Daniels in the final days before the 2016 election. But Thursday on Fox, Trump appeared to confirm that Cohen had been acting on his behalf.
“He represents me, like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal,” Trump said during the call. “He represented me, and you know, from what I see, he did absolutely nothing wrong. There were no campaign funds going into this, which would have been a problem.”
The FBI raided Cohen’s home, office, and hotel room earlier this month looking for evidence of fraud as they conduct a criminal investigation that’s apparently separate from Mueller’s Russia probe but could be related in part to the Daniels payment.
Alan Dershowitz, the famed defense attorney and emeritus Harvard Law professor who has sharply criticized Mueller’s Russia investigation in the media, said Thursday that he didn’t think Trump’s admission about Cohen will hurt him legally.
“It’s ambiguous, as many of his statements are,” Dershowitz said regarding Trump, while noting that the president didn’t say he knew about the Daniels arrangement “at the time it happened.”
“This would not be the first time the president contradicted himself,” said Dershowitz, who says he’s not representing Trump and didn’t vote for him but objects to Mueller’s tactics in the Russia probe. “So I think we’ll probably hear another statement from him in the near future clarifying the clarification. I don’t see any legal implications” for Trump.
Michael Avenatti, a lawyer representing Daniels, disagrees.
“Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen previously represented to the American people that Mr. Cohen acted on his own and Mr. Trump knew nothing about the agreement with my client, the $130k payment, etc,” Avenatti tweeted after Trump’s interview Thursday. “As I predicted, that has now been shown to be completely false.”
Avenatti represents Daniels in a civil case in California, in which she’s seeking to invalidate the confidentiality agreement she signed before the election.
Dershowitz conceded that Trump’s decision to discuss Cohen during the Fox interview wasn’t in his best interest.
“An interview like this can never help you legally,” Dershowitz said. “This won’t hurt him legally, but it’s not going to help him legally.”
Dershowitz repeated a list of four rules that he has said would normally apply to someone in Trump’s position.
“Don’t pardon, don’t fire, don’t tweet, don’t testify, and I would add a fifth,” he said. “Don’t give interviews.”Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Jeremy C. Fox of the Globe Staff contributed. Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.