To be clear, Donald Trump has not hired a base-stealing, tobacco-spitting ghost to deflect stories about Russian collusion, though that would only qualify as roughly the 27th-strangest story this year. No, the Ty Cobb joining the president’s team of lawyers merely has the same name as his more famous relative*, the baseball legend who died in 1961. The younger Cobb, a veteran litigator with a tremendous mustache who is a partner at the DC firm Hogan Lovells, will be brought on to “enforce discipline in the White House regarding Russia matters,” according to Bloomberg.
In the early days of the Trump presidency, the communications strategy on Russia consisted mostly of sending out White House press secretary Sean Spicer to dissemble. To adopt a more consistent response and give Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders some cover on the issue, the Trump team went searching for a few good lawyers. But top Washington firms mostly passed. And given the Trump family’s inveterate mendacity, the steady stream of damning new details surrounding the Russia story, and the fact that the president tends to ignore professional advice, their hesitance is perfectly understandable.
What’s left is a shallow pool of candidates — the likes of Jay Sekulow, Marc Kasowitz (last seen warning a man who sent him a critical email to “watch your back, bitch”), and other examples of the “Trump Lawyer,” a particular breed Jonathan Mahler recently explored in The New York Times Magazine. Trump Lawyers, he writes, are hardly legal eagles — indeed, their expertise is largely besides the point. In the mold of their client, their primary qualification is attitudinal, not professional, and the job is more about performance than process:
“Trump Lawyers practice Trump Law. Trump Law is not about the merits of a case or even its resolution. It doesn’t matter if you’re threatening to sue, suing or being sued yourself. What matters is that you dominate, or be seen as dominating. In Trump Law, you can lose and still win, or at least declare victory, as Trump did after losing his defamation suit against the author Timothy O’Brien, claiming, falsely, that he had succeeded in his goal of costing O’Brien a lot of money.”
(The original Trump Lawyer was Roy Cohn, Joe McCarthy’s right-hand man, whose truculence and disregard for the truth aligned perfectly with the now-president’s philosophy.)
Cobb’s years at Washington firms distinguish him from some of his new colleagues, and his experience in the Clinton White House could appeal to Steve Bannon, who, in helping to coordinate Russia pushback, “modeled Trump’s war room after the one set up by Bill Clinton to handle Ken Starr’s Whitewater probe.”
Whether Cobb will adopt a more traditionally professional posture than his new colleagues remains to be seen. But in trying to navigate the maelstrom of lies unleashed by his unpredictable new client, a steady temperament may only go so far.
*This post has been updated with the correct relationship between the two Ty Cobbs.