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Michael Cohen will stay Trump’s personal attorney — even in the White House

Michael Cohen arrives at Trump Tower in New York on Tuesday. (Stephanie Keith/Reuters)

Michael Cohen, a combative defender of president-elect Donald Trump who has worked for Trump’s company for the past decade, has been named to serve as personal attorney to Trump while he serves as president, Cohen said Thursday.

Cohen said he will defend Trump in a personal capacity and his role will place him outside both the Trump Organization and the White House Counsel’s Office. Cohen said he will resign from the Trump Organization, where he has held the title of executive vice president and special counsel to Trump, and vacate his Trump Tower office. Cohen said he left the company to avoid a “perceived conflict.”

“I’m not a government official. I’m not taking a government salary,” Cohen said. “I’m just going to continue technically in the role that I play for Mr. Trump as president of the Trump Organization. I’m just going to be doing it as Donald Trump as president of the United States.”

Since he will not be serving in government, Cohen will not be required to file financial disclosure forms required of White House employees. At the same time, his role as legal counsel to Trump will likely afford him attorney-client privilege, making communications between him and Trump confidential.

Cohen said the exact parameters of the role are still being reviewed, but he said he will take on the defense of Trump in a defamation case filed in New York this week by a former contestant on “The Apprentice.” Summer Zervos accused Trump of kissing and groping her during a meeting to discuss a job in 2007. In her lawsuit, Zervos alleges Trump defamed her when he denied the allegation before the presidential election, calling her and other women who made similar accusations liars. Cohen said Thursday that Zervos’s suit is “baseless.”

“What’s the defense to defamation? Truth,” Cohen said. “He had no relationship with this woman, and the allegations are false.”

[Former ‘Apprentice’ contestant sues Trump for defamation for denying alleged groping]

A Trump spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cohen said the unique nature of Trump’s background means he will require personal counsel. “This is a very unusual president, because there’s never been a president of the United States worth $10 billion, with 600 or 700 corporations that have national and international relations.” (Experts who have studied Trump's federal disclosures say he is likely worth less than the $10 billion he has claimed.) Trump has said his businesses will be managed by his two adults sons and that he will have no communication with them about its day-to-day operation.

But Cohen said his role will be similar to lawyers employed by previous presidents. David Kendall, for instance, served as personal counsel to President Bill Clinton, helping him navigate investigations into his Arkansas land dealings and defend himself against a sexual harassment suit from Arkansas state employee Paula Jones. President Obama employed Robert Bauer, an attorney at Perkins Coie, to serve as his personal counsel after Bauer concluded service as White House counsel in 2011.

While working for the Trump Organization, Cohen has been known as an especially aggressive defender of his boss. In 2015, he threatened a reporter for the Daily Beast who was writing a story about reports that Trump’s first wife, Ivana Trump, had accused the businessman of rape in a deposition as part of their divorce. “I’m warning you, tread very f---ing lightly,” Cohen said, according to the Daily Beast, “because what I’m going to do to you is going to be f---ing disgusting.” (Ivana Trump has recanted those allegations.)

In an exchange that went viral, Cohen also tangled with a CNN reporter in August about whether Hillary Clinton was leading in the presidential race. “Which polls?” he demanded to know when reporter Brianna Keilar said polls showed Clinton ahead. “All of them,” she responded.