It wasn’t just one Trump lawyer, actually, it was two. And the restaurant is located … next door to the Times’s Washington bureau office.
— Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel) September 18, 2017
What the hell was Cobb thinking?
The debate in Mr. Trump’s West Wing has pitted Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, against Ty Cobb, a lawyer brought in to manage the response to the investigation. Mr. Cobb has argued for turning over as many of the emails and documents requested by the special counsel as possible in hopes of quickly ending the investigation — or at least its focus on Mr. Trump…
The friction escalated in recent days after Mr. Cobb was overheard by a reporter for The New York Times discussing the dispute during a lunchtime conversation at a popular Washington steakhouse. Mr. Cobb was heard talking about a White House lawyer he deemed “a McGahn spy” and saying Mr. McGahn had “a couple documents locked in a safe” that he seemed to suggest he wanted access to. He also mentioned a colleague whom he blamed for “some of these earlier leaks,” and who he said “tried to push Jared out,” meaning Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who has been a previous source of dispute for the legal team.
After The Times contacted the White House about the situation, Mr. McGahn privately erupted at Mr. Cobb, according to people informed about the confrontation who asked not to be named describing internal matters. John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, sharply reprimanded Mr. Cobb for his indiscretion, the people said.
Cobb, supposedly, wants full disclosure of everything to Mueller; McGahn, however, wants to disclose only as necessary. That’s because they represent different clients: Cobb is looking out for Trump’s personal interests whereas McGahn, as White House counsel, is worried about precedents that’ll be set and used against the *institution* in the future. If the White House starts handing over anything Mueller wants, at a minimum that’ll be used as precedent against future presidents (or maybe even Trump himself if another scandal erupts later) to justify full disclosure then too.
But never mind that. What is Cobb doing blabbing about this in public? He’s a highly paid Washington lawyer working for the president on the most sensitive issue in American politics, and there he is chattering about it in public next door to the New York farking Times. Would he really be so careless? Or … was this strategy?
Cobb intentionally leaking to the Times would risk violating client confidentiality, but Cobb “accidentally” leaking to the Times — well, that’s just negligence. Embarrassing, and maybe worthy of some discipline, but everyone makes mistakes. Also, even though it’s right next door, what are the odds that a Times reporter would be having lunch at that restaurant at the same time on the same day at Cobb and Dowd? Two possibilities: Either a Times staffer spotted the two at lunch and raced upstairs to tell a reporter to get down there or someone — maybe Cobb himself? — tipped off the paper that he’d be there talking about Russiagate at that time. Hmmmm!
On the other hand, if Cobb was eager to leak to a paper, surely he could have found a more elegant way to do it than this, which has reduced him to a laughingstock overnight. Some deputy could have been tasked with dialing up the Times and whispering about McGahn’s reluctance to turn over documents. It’s not as if Cobb is above doing stupid, self-defeating things either. This story appeared less than 10 days ago:
Cobb, a former partner at Hogan Lovells, responded to [Jeff] Jetton’s obscenity-laden emails using his official White House email account. Jetton provided Business Insider with the exchange that followed, in which Cobb sheds light on his motivations for joining the White House in July…
“I’m probably going to lose access to affordable healthcare, Ty,” Jetton wrote, adding that Trump is “screwing everyday Americans” and that “I don’t have to tell you that, it’s right there slapping you across the face.”
Cobb replied: “Dude U have no idea! I walked away from $4 million annually to do this, had to sell my entire retirement account for major capital losses and lost a s—load to try to protect the third pillar of democracy. Your hate I will never understand as an American. Hope you get help!”
Jeff Jetton is essentially an anti-Trump troll who emailed Cobb out of the blue to bait him. And Cobb … took the bait, just as former Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz did with an entirely different anti-Trump troll a few months ago. How the hell can the most powerful man in the world not find an attorney willing to represent him with the requisite degree of professionalism?
Speaking of which, in lieu of an exit question read this sorry tale of Michael Caputo and other lower-ranking Trump staffers who suddenly find themselves crushed with legal bills because they’ve had to lawyer up to protect themselves in the Russiagate investigation. Mike Flynn launched his own legal defense fund today to help cover his costs, but Flynn has resources and is partly to blame for the heat on the White House due to his undisclosed foreign lobbying registration. What about people like Caputo and Hope Hicks who aren’t suspected of any wrongdoing but are stuck taking very expensive precautions anyway? If only they knew a wealthy family that could help them out by picking up their tab.
Update: No wonder everyone’s lawyered up. Another key bit from the Times story: “The uncertainty has grown to the point that White House officials privately express fear that colleagues may be wearing a wire to surreptitiously record conversations for Mr. Mueller.” What?