White House special counsel Ty Cobb, currently a lesser-known character in the drama surrounding the Trump administration, is making a strong play to be immortalized on the next season of Saturday Night Live.
First, there’s the name. Cobb, who was hired in July to manage the White House response to the Russia scandal, is a relative of the late baseball legend of the same name. Second, there’s the glorious mustache. And now, there’s the ridiculous unforced error that’s characteristic of so many Trump associates.
The New York Times reported on Sunday night that Cobb is doing battle with Donald McGahn, the White House counsel tasked with handling a wide range of legal issues, not just the Russia probe. Apparently the paper became aware of this because Cobb was blabbing loudly about the conflict among Trump’s lawyers at a BLT Steak in D.C.:
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.
The conflict between Kushner and Trump’s personal lawyers has been previously reported, and it may have played a role in the departure of longtime Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz several weeks ago. But it’s unclear what documents McGahn might have squirreled away in a safe. (McGahn reportedly prevented Trump from sending a long, angry letter saying he was firing FBI director James Comey over the Russia probe, but it seems special counsel Robert Mueller already has his hands on that.)
The Times reports that Cobb wants to quickly turn over many emails and documents requested by Mueller, as he believes that will bring a quicker end to the probe. However, McGahn is against this due to the precedent it would set for future presidents hounded by a special prosecutor, and questions surrounding Trump’s ability to assert executive privilege.
This is of particular concern to McGahn because he may also be a witness in the Russia probe. McGahn signed on to the Trump team during the campaign, and Mueller wants to interview him about matters like Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russian officials and Comey’s dismissal. As West Wing viewers know, the president doesn’t have the same attorney-client privilege with government lawyers as he does with private attorneys, so McGahn’s disclosures could put him in legal jeopardy.
McGahn’s situation is awkward, but not unusual for the current White House. Many Trump administration lawyers have their own lawyers, and aides are reportedly wary of getting involved in matters that may draw Mueller’s attention because they can’t afford the legal fees. Several days ago, Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign adviser, said he’s been forced to liquidate his children’s college fund to pay for a lawyer. And money isn’t the only issue. Per the Times:
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.
Obviously, accidentally tipping off a reporter dining a few doors down from the Times’s D.C. bureau doesn’t help:
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.
Various Trump attorneys downplayed the incident to the Times, and praised each other’s professionalism, but all in all, the White House doesn’t sound like a great place to work right now.