President Donald Trump plans to put a veteran Washington lawyer, Ty Cobb, in charge of overseeing the White House’s legal and media response to investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign.
The White House announced Cobb’s hiring on Saturday to serve as special counsel, without providing additional information on his role.
Administration officials want someone to enforce discipline in the White House regarding Russia matters — and that includes the president, who frequently vents his frustrations about the investigations on Twitter, two people familiar with the plan said on Friday. The people requested anonymity because Cobb’s hiring hadn’t yet been announced at the time.
An email sent to Cobb at the firm Hogan Lovells, where he’s a partner in the investigations practice, was answered with an automatic reply that said he’s traveling and has limited access to voicemail and email. He’s expected to join the White House at the end of the month.
Cobb will be the central in-house figure on matters related to the investigations into Russian interference in the election and the Trump campaign’s possible involvement, working closely with Trump’s outside legal team led by Marc Kasowitz and John Dowd. Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, sought to model the White House’s Russia war room in the vein of former President Bill Clinton’s operation during the investigations of his White House in the 1990s, two people familiar with the matter said.
Bannon went so far as to reach out to Lanny Davis, the Washington lawyer who acted both as Clinton’s legal adviser and aggressive spokesman. Others on the Russia-response team include lawyer Jay Sekulow, a frequent TV surrogate for Trump, and Mark Corallo, a public relations consultant.
Trump, known for placing great value on relationships and loyalty, appears to be assembling a team of Russia aides familiar with Mueller and how he operates. Corallo worked for the Justice Department in the early 2000s when Mueller was the FBI director. Cobb has known Mueller for years, as has Dowd, a former U.S. attorney who in private practice handled cases related to the Justice Department.
Cobb is a relative of the late baseball Hall of Famer of the same name.A fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and a former federal prosecutor, he has a reputation for managing crises and dealing with corruption allegations. Cobb represented figures involved in government investigations during the Clinton administration, according to Reuters, which reported on July 3 that Trump had met with him.
The decision ends a weeks-long search in which Trump considered several other lawyers and Republican personalities, including Matt Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney in Iowa; Laura Ingraham, a conservative political commentator; and Washington attorneys William Burck and Emmet Flood. The move frees White House counsel Don McGahn’s staff to focus on other Trump priorities, including de-regulation, one of the people said.
According to the people familiar with the move, Cobb is intended to be traffic cop, enforcer of discipline, and public spokesman — the point person for queries from congressional panels and the Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller. He’ll also work not only with Kasowitz’s team but with outside lawyers hired by others in Trump’s inner circle.
Some Trump allies are concerned that the president’s biggest legal liability isn’t the suspicion about his campaign’s possible collusion with the Russian government but rather obstruction of justice charges related to his response to the investigation, including his tweets and his decision to fire FBI director James Comey.
Revelations this week of his son Donald Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer whom Trump Jr. believed to be bringing him damaging information on Hillary Clinton has renewed a sense of urgency in the White House to firm up its strategy on the Russia investigations, White House aides said.