President Donald Trump has previously called himself “an extremely loyal person, to a fault, frankly.”
Those who’ve dared to cooperate with the multiple ongoing investigations into him, however, might not agree.
So far, six Trump associates have been indicted on charges ranging from tax fraud to conspiracy against the United States, most in relation to their dealings with his business or campaign. The way Trump has treated them in public before and after those indictments is revealing.
Roger Stone was a Trump adviser, ally, and supporter for years and joined his nascent presidential campaign for several months before he left (or before Trump fired him).
In December 2018, as Stone was first coming under increasing legal scrutiny over his relationship with WikiLeaks, which published a trove of hacked documents from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in October 2016, Trump praised the former adviser for refusing to testify against him, saying it was “Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts!’”
Last month, however, Stone was indicted on seven counts of false statements, obstruction, and witness tampering. Even though Stone pleaded not guilty and seems unwilling to cooperate with the investigation, Trump made sure to distance himself.
“First of all, Roger Stone didn’t work on the campaign, except way way at the beginning long before we’re talking about,” he told CBS after the indictment.
George Papadopoulos joined the Trump campaign as a foreign policy adviser in March 2016. At the time, Trump told The Washington Post that Papadopoulos was “an excellent guy.”
Yet in 2017, after Papadopoulos admitted to lying to the FBI over his Russia connections during the campaign, Trump distanced himself from him.
“I don’t know Papadopoulos. I don’t know him,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One in September 2018. “I saw him sitting in one picture at a table with me. That’s the only thing I know about him. I don’t know him. But they got him, I guess, on a couple of lies, I guess that’s what they’re saying.”
Another associate on whom Trump has soured is Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney and “fixer.”
“Michael Cohen is a very talented lawyer. He’s a good lawyer in my firm,” Trump said during a press conference in January 2017, amid the White House transition. Cohen had just been accused of serving as a backchannel between Russia and the Trump campaign, including making an alleged visit to Prague for his boss. Trump was defending his fixer and attorney, who had famously said he would “take a bullet” for Trump.
The president’s tone shifted noticeably, however, after FBI agents raided Cohen’s house in April 2018, in search of documents related to several campaign finance violations tied to Trump’s 2016 bid. Although Trump initially spoke highly of Cohen, calling him someone “I have always liked & respected,” the president turned on him, belittling Cohen in several scathing tweets.
In August 2018, after it became clear Cohen would cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Trump tweeted, “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!” In December 2018, after Cohen’s plea deal was revealed, Trump further turned on his former fixer, calling him a “rat,” and a “bad lawyer.”
After months of referring to retired Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former campaign adviser and White House national security adviser, as a “good person,” Trump suddenly backed down last year, criticizing him as well for taking a deal and pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 campaign.
“They took a general that they said didn’t lie and they convinced him he did lie, and he made some kind of a deal, and now they’re recommending no time,” Trump said on Fox News last December. “You know why? Because they’re embarrassed that he got caught.”
The exception that proves the rule so far is Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman who joined the team in mid-2016 — and left just months later after his extensive connections with pro-Russian figures came under scrutiny.
A year after Manafort left the campaign, the FBI raided his house to seize materials related to the Russia investigation. Trump downplayed how connected he was to Manafort, saying the former chairman had been with the campaign “for a very short period of time.”
Although Manafort was later arrested and found guilty on several counts of finance and tax fraud, he never fully cooperated with federal investigators or attorneys on Mueller’s team, and he was largely spared Trump’s wrath.
“With respect to Paul Manafort, who — it’s very sad what’s happened to Paul, the way he’s being treated,” Trump said in November 2018. “I’ve never seen anybody treated so poorly.”
The president also has said he has not taken the idea of a presidential pardon for Manafort “off the table.”