Ty Cobb to Leave White House Post Overseeing Mueller Response

Lawyer’s departure signals Trump may be seeking a more aggressive strategy

President Donald Trump walks from the Oval Office to Marine One on March 23. He flew to West Virginia Thursday to tout the GOP tax overhaul bill. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump walks from the Oval Office to Marine One on March 23. He flew to West Virginia Thursday to tout the GOP tax overhaul bill. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Posted May 2, 2018 at 1:31pm

Updated 2:46 p.m. | Ty Cobb, the lawyer President Donald Trump brought in to lead the White House’s response to the Justice Department’s Russia probe, is retiring. His departure marks the latest in a string as the president shakes up his legal battalion.

“For several weeks Ty Cobb has been discussing his retirement and last week he let Chief of Staff [John F.] Kelly know he would retire at the end of this month,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. She later confirmed he will be replaced by  Clinton impeachment lawyer and George W. Bush White House veteran Emmet Flood.

Cobb clashed with the president and members of his White House and personal legal teams and had led the charge in pleading with the president to avoid taking on or firing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is leading the Russia investigation. 

His departure comes after John Dowd, who had been Trump’s lead personal attorney overseeing his response to the Mueller probe, quit in late March. Dowd had advised Trump against an interview with Mueller and his team.

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Norm Eisen, former White House special counsel for ethics and government reform under President Barack Obama, views the addition of Flood as a sign the Trump-Mueller battle is about to heat up.

“Fasten your seat belts folks. It’s war. I know Emmet — in fact, he briefed me during the Bush to Obama transition when I was coming in as special counsel & he was headed out. He’s one of the very best. This will be a fight for the ages,” Eisen tweeted Wednesday.

Watch: White House’s Sanders and Trump Imply Firing Authority Over Mueller

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Cobb’s abrupt departure likely signals a more aggressive tack, as he had counseled the president for a year to fully cooperate. Cobb reportedly angered White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn II when he handed over reams of documents to Mueller’s staff without, in McGahn’s view, fully reviewing them.

A report surfaced this week that Mueller told Trump’s lawyers he might use a grand jury subpoena to force the president to testify.

McGahn and Cobb also clashed over the White House counsel’s view that Cobb should press Trump to block such document dumps by using his executive privileges. Cobb never did, prompting Trump to say on April 9 he has “given, I believe, over a million pages worth of documents to the special counsel.”

Trump might still agree to an interview with Mueller, Cobb signaled during an interview that aired Wednesday on an ABC News podcast. That’s something one of Trump’s new personal lawyers, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, said he was hired to make happen.

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“It’s certainly not off the table and people are working hard to make decisions and work towards an interview,” Cobb said on the podcast. “And assuming that can be concluded favorably, there’ll be an interview. … Assuming it can’t be … assuming an agreement can’t be reached, then it’ll go a different route.”

Meantime, Flood’s hiring is not yet final as Cobb is expected to remain on the job for a few weeks to help his replacement get up to speed. The White House did not mention Flood in its statement and has not made any formal declaration that he is on board. Nor has the president ever tweeted about him, according to a search of a database of his tweets.

The latest shakeup of his legal advisers underscores a point Trump made Thursday during a rollercoaster phone interview live on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends,” his favorite morning news show.

“I have attorneys,” he said. “Sadly, I have so many attorneys you wouldn’t even believe it.”