Ty Cobb: Mueller investigation is not a ‘witch hunt’

Ex-White House lawyer Ty Cobb broke with his former boss Monday, saying he doesn’t believe special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is a “witch hunt.”

“I don’t think it’s a witch hunt,” Cobb told CNN’s Gloria Borger during CNN’s “Citizen Conference.”

Cobb also characterized Mueller as “an American hero in my view” and said that he has respected Mueller for decades.

McGahn, White House Counsel, Has Cooperated Extensively in Mueller Inquiry

The White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, has cooperated extensively in the special counsel investigation, sharing detailed accounts about the episodes at the heart of the inquiry into whether President Trump obstructed justice, including some that investigators would not have learned of otherwise, according to a dozen current and former White House officials and others briefed on the matter.1

In at least three voluntary interviews with investigators that totaled 30 hours over the past nine months, Mr. McGahn described the president’s fury toward the Russia investigation and the ways in which he urged Mr. McGahn to respond to it

.. It is not clear that Mr. Trump appreciates the extent to which Mr. McGahn has cooperated with the special counsel. The president wrongly believed that Mr. McGahn would act as a personal lawyer would for clients and solely defend his interests to investigators

..  Mr. McGahn cautioned to investigators that he never saw Mr. Trump go beyond his legal authorities, though the limits of executive power are murky.

.. the two rarely speak one on one — the White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, and other advisers are usually present for their meetings — and Mr. Trump has questioned Mr. McGahn’s loyalty.

.. Mr. McGahn that he has called the president “King Kong” behind his back, to connote his volcanic anger, people close to Mr. McGahn said.

.. Mr. Burck said that Mr. McGahn had been obliged to cooperate with the special counsel. “President Trump, through counsel, declined to assert any privilege over Mr. McGahn’s testimony

.. He wanted to take on Mr. Mueller directly, attacking his credibility and impeding investigators. But two of his newly hired lawyers, John M. Dowd and Ty Cobb, have said they took Mr. Trump at his word that he did nothing wrong and sold him on an open-book strategy.

.. As White House counsel, not a personal lawyer, he viewed his role as protector of the presidency, not of Mr. Trump. Allowing a special counsel to root around the West Wing could set a precedent harmful to future administrations.

..  Mr. Trump blamed him for a number of fraught moments in his first months in office, including the chaotic, failed early attempts at a ban on travelers from some majority-Muslim countries and, in particular, the existence of Mr. Mueller’s investigation.

.. Mr. McGahn’s decision to cooperate with the special counsel grew out of Mr. Dowd’s and Mr. Cobb’s game plan, now seen as misguided by some close to the president.

.. Last fall, Mr. Mueller’s office asked to interview Mr. McGahn. To the surprise of the White House Counsel’s Office, Mr. Trump and his lawyers signaled that they had no objection, without knowing the extent of what Mr. McGahn was going to tell investigators.

Mr. McGahn was stunned

.. Mr. Burck has explained to others that he told White House advisers that they did not appreciate the president’s legal exposure and that it was “insane” that Mr. Trump did not fight a McGahn interview in court.

..  the White House has to understand that a client like Mr. Trump probably made politically damaging statements to Mr. McGahn as he weighed whether to intervene in the Russia investigation.

.. Mr. McGahn and his lawyer grew suspicious. They began telling associates that they had concluded that the president had decided to let Mr. McGahn take the fall for decisions that could be construed as obstruction of justice, like the Comey firing, by telling the special counsel that he was only following shoddy legal advice from Mr. McGahn.

.. McGahn told people he was determined to avoid the fate of the White House counsel for President Richard M. Nixon, John W. Dean, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice in the Watergate scandal.

Mr. McGahn decided to fully cooperate with Mr. Mueller. It was, he believed, the only choice he had to protect himself.

.. “This sure has echoes of Richard Nixon’s White House counsel, John Dean, who in 1973 feared that Nixon was setting him up as a fall guy for Watergate and secretly gave investigators crucial help while still in his job,” said the historian Michael Beschloss.

.. By exerting attorney-client privilege, which allows the president to legally withhold information, they would have gained the right to learn what Mr. McGahn planned to tell investigators and what he might reveal that could damage the president. But the president’s lawyers never went through that process, although they told people that they believed they still had the ability to stop Mr. Mueller from handing over to Congress the accounts of witnesses like Mr. McGahn and others.

.. Mr. Burck and Mr. McGahn met the special counsel team in November for the first time and shared all that Mr. McGahn knew.

.. Mr. McGahn gave to Mr. Mueller’s investigators, the people said,

.. it became apparent that Mr. McGahn and Mr. Burck had overestimated the amount of thought that they believed the president put into his legal strategy

 

 

Trump has trouble finding attorneys as top Russia lawyer leaves legal team

President Trump, whose top attorney handling the Russia probe resigned Thursday, is struggling to find top-notch defense lawyers willing to represent him in the case, according to multiple Trump advisers familiar with the negotiations.

.. John Dowd, the president’s chief lawyer in handling the Mueller probe since last year, quit Thursday morning after several strategy disputes with the president, who ultimately lost confidence in the veteran lawyer

.. Dowd also had been negotiating the terms for the president to sit for an interview with Mueller’s team ..

.. The struggles are reminiscent of Trump’s difficulties in the spring of 2017 when the president was first seeking new attorneys to represent him in the Russia probe. He interviewed a half-dozen high-profile legal stars in the white-collar defense bar, including Flood, Brendan V. Sullivan Jr. and A.B. Culvahouse Jr.; all of them declined.

.. “These major law firms have spent millions of dollars on their image,” said one Trump adviser, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It’s political. They are saying that representing this president is just too controversial.”

.. Aside from being controversial, aides said Trump has proved to be a difficult client, as Dowd learned firsthand.

.. Dowd complained to colleagues that Trump had ignored his advice and tweeted attacks on Mueller and other topics hours after Dowd and other advisers urged him not to

.. Dowd also said he was personally insulted by the president’s efforts to hire other lawyers. One person familiar with the dynamics said Trump frequently praised his legal team to their faces but criticized them when they were not around.

.. But privately, Dowd was “blindsided” when the president interviewed Flood and again when Trump announced he was adding conservative lawyer and attack-dog Joseph diGenova to the team last week.

.. One Trump adviser said the president berated Dowd for not doing enough to, in the president’s view, highlight corruption and political bias in the FBI to undercut the legitimacy of the Mueller probe. Trump told Dowd he wanted to tweet that the firing of deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe was another reason the Mueller probe should be shut down, the adviser said.

.. At 10 a.m. Thursday, Dowd resigned without consulting Trump ..

.. Aides said they were unsuccessful in asking him to hold off until they could confer with the president and prepare a statement.

.. A huge bone of contention between Trump and his team has been over testifying in front of Mueller’s team, these people said. Trump wants to do so, thinking he can talk his way out of it, while his lawyers are far more wary,

.. Dowd and Marc Kasowitz, Trump’s former lawyer whom he still occasionally consults, have told Trump he could damage himself by testifying. His chief White House counsel, Donald McGahn, also has chafed at Trump granting an interview and has criticized others on the team.

.. Trump has groused to friends and aides that he thinks his lawyers are weak and that his New York attorneys are tougher and better.

Earlier this month, Trump dubbed news reports of trouble on his legal team as inaccurate.

“The Failing New York Times purposely wrote a false story stating that I am unhappy with my legal team on the Russia case and am going to add another lawyer to help out,” Trump tweeted March 11. “Wrong. I am VERY happy with my lawyers, John Dowd, Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow. They are doing a great job.

.. Eight days later, the president hired diGenova, and Dowd is now off the team.

 

Mueller Is Said to Likely Seek to Interview Trump

White House officials viewed the discussion as a sign that Mr. Mueller’s investigation of Mr. Trump could be nearing the end. But even if that is so, allowing prosecutors to interview a sitting president who has a history of hyperbolic or baseless assertions carries legal risk for him.

.. Mr. Mueller appeared most interested in asking questions about the former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, and the firing of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey — not the broader question of possible collusion with Russia.

.. Mr. Trump has sat for depositions before and shown discipline when under oath. His testimony in civil cases reveals a canny ability to avoid being cornered and a frank acknowledgment that he uses “truthful hyperbole” or “innocent exaggeration.” But he has never faced questioning from someone like Mr. Mueller, a veteran prosecutor and former F.B.I. director who has a dozen experienced litigators behind him.

.. “It’s pretty clear when Ty Cobb came in, he tightened up the ship and had a talk with Trump and must have said: ‘You’re O.K. on collusion. Stop attacking Mueller directly.’”

.. Mr. Mueller would almost certainly want to speak directly with Mr. Trump in person. They said Mr. Trump’s lawyers would want to prevent Mr. Mueller from putting Mr. Trump alone before a grand jury, where lawyers normally are not present.

.. Mr. Trump’s lawyers would do all they could to show Mr. Mueller they were cooperating to prevent the special counsel from putting him before the grand jury.

 

A bold new legal defense for Trump: Presidents cannot obstruct justice

The brazen assertion Monday by one of President Trump’s lawyers that a president cannot be found guilty of obstruction of justice signaled a controversial defense strategy in the wide-ranging Russia probe, as Trump’s political advisers are increasingly concerned about the legal advice he is receiving.

.. Trump tweeted over the weekend that he knew then-national security adviser Michael Flynn lied to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador before firing him in February — and before FBI Director James B. Comey said Trump asked him to be lenient while investigating Flynn. Experts said the president’s admission increased his legal exposure to obstruction-of-justice charges

.. Trump’s personal lawyer John Dowd sought to excuse the president’s tweet in part by telling Axios and NBC News on Monday that the “president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case.”

Dowd declined to elaborate on his theory or explain the emerging legal strategy to The Washington Post.

Inside the White House, some senior officials were baffled that Dowd publicly offered this interpretation of the law, which has been advanced since the summer by constitutional scholar Alan Dershowitz in defense of Trump but flatly dismissed by many other legal scholars.

.. “It’s interesting as a technical legal issue, but the president’s lawyers intend to present a fact-based defense, not a mere legal defense,” Cobb said in an interview with The Post.
“We have a president, not a king,”
.. “No one is above the law, whether it be Trump or any of his close associates. It’s the sort of desperate claim that makes you wonder, ‘What exactly are they hiding?’”
.. “You cannot charge a president with obstruction of justice for exercising his constitutional power to fire Comey and his constitutional authority to tell the Justice Department who to investigate, who not to investigate,” Dershowitz said. “That’s what Thomas Jefferson did, that’s what Lincoln did, that’s what Roosevelt did. We have precedents that clearly establish that.”
.. Dershowitz was appearing on “Fox & Friends,” a pro-Trump morning show that the president regularly watches. After his appearance, Trump tweeted, “A must watch: Legal Scholar Alan Dershowitz was just on @foxandfriends talking of what is going on with respect to the greatest Witch Hunt in U.S. political history.”
.. Furthermore, he wrote, “the president has the constitutional authority to stop the investigation of any person by simply pardoning that person.”

.. Cobb and Dowd have urged Trump to cooperate fully with Mueller’s investigation, providing documents when asked by the special counsel and encouraging White House staffers to comply with requests for interviews.

.. Cobb and Dowd also have been privately assuring the president that the Mueller probe was likely to reach its conclusion by the end of this year, complete with a public exoneration of Trump of any wrongdoing.
.. In Monday’s interview, Cobb said he still believes Mueller’s investigation of Trump will reach “an appropriate result” by Christmas or early January.
.. Stephen K. Bannon — have been grumbling for weeks that the president’s legal strategy is too compliant with Mueller and not combative enough.
.. “The concern is that every time the president feels a little bit of pain from what Mueller’s doing, [his lawyers] give him OxyContin and tell him he’ll be fine by the morning,” this strategist said metaphorically
.. Cobb said, “There’s no question that Bannon is doing the president a great disservice by agitating persistently on this issue. Internally, where people are actually informed, there’s no consternation about the decision to cooperate fully with the special counsel, and Mr. Bannon has yet to identify what fights he would pick and how constructive that would be.”

.. In 1999, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, then a senator from Alabama, argued that Clinton should be removed from office for obstructing justice in the investigation into his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.“The facts are disturbing and compelling on the president’s intent to obstruct justice,” Sessions said at the time.

Trump says he has nothing to fear from Flynn, then stokes new controversy with tweet

Trump’s lawyers have begged him not to tweet about Russia or the investigation, but the president said repeatedly Friday that he wanted to respond to the Flynn news, associates said.

Cobb has told others that he has been more successful than others at limiting Trump’s tweets because he talks to him frequently and reassures him

Meanwhile, an email written by a Flynn deputy that came to light Saturday suggests that many of Trump’s closest aides were informed that Flynn planned to discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador before Flynn made a December phone call to Kislyak.

.. Burck said that Priebus “confronted General Flynn several times, including in front of others, on whether he had talked to Kislyak about sanctions and was consistently told he had not.”

.. Trump was in a buoyant mood as he crossed Manhattan on Saturday, bragging about his election win in Rust Belt states and the improving economy.

At several stops, he touted the Senate’s passage of the GOP tax bill and predicted that Democrats who voted against it would lose their next elections.

Trump’s stops included the palatial Upper East Side apartment of Steve Schwarzman, chairman of a global private-equity firm.

.. Trump also told the wealthy donors at the event that the legislation was for the middle class