A few weeks after he was hired to manage the White House response to the Russia probes, attorney Ty Cobb claimed that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation would be wrapped up shortly.
“I’d be embarrassed if this is still haunting the White House by Thanksgiving and worse if it’s still haunting him by year end,” Cobb told Reuters in August.
Indeed, Cobb was mocked widely when this prediction did not come to pass. At the end of October, Mueller’s team revealed that former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. On the same day, Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates were indicted on multiple charges.
Yet Cobb just adjusted his deadline. The Washington Post reported in mid-November: “He remains optimistic that it will wrap up by the end of the year, if not shortly thereafter.”
On December 1, Trump’s former national-security adviser Mike Flynn cut a deal with Mueller and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. Cobb’s statement on the matter suggested this was a sign that the probe was finally coming to a close: “The conclusion of this phase of the special counsel’s work demonstrates again that the special counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion.”
A few days before Christmas, Cobb offered a new timeframe: “January or so.”
Now as we enter the tail end of January, Cobb has revised his calculations again. In an interview with CBS News’ Major Garrett on this week’s The Takeout podcast, Cobb says he expects the Mueller investigation to be wrapped up in four to six weeks.
At this point, Cobb’s shifting deadline isn’t surprising, but it’s still perplexing.
Previously, many assumed that Cobb was presenting President Trump with an overly optimistic forecast in an effort to keep him from blowing up and firing Mueller. If this is still Cobb’s strategy, he might have missed that someone pointed it out to Trump last month. Here’s an excerpt from the president’s interview with New York Times reporter Michael S. Schmidt on December 28:
SCHMIDT: That’s true. But in terms of, the lawyers said it would be done by, your guys said, it would be done by Thanksgiving, it would be done by Christmas. What are they telling you now? What are they telling you?
TRUMP: Timingwise, I can’t tell you. I just don’t know. But I think we’ll be treated fairly.
SCHMIDT: But you’re not worked up about the timing?
TRUMP: Well, I think it’s bad for the country. The only thing that bothers me about timing, I think it’s a very bad thing for the country. Because it makes the country look bad, it makes the country look very bad, and it puts the country in a very bad position. So the sooner it’s worked out, the better it is for the country.
If Cobb is trying to stay upbeat for the benefit of other people in Trump’s orbit, that doesn’t appear to be working either. There is ample evidence that Mueller’s investigation is nowhere near finished. This week a federal judge rejected the special counsel’s request to start Manafort’s trial in May, suggesting it will start in September or October at the earliest. Meanwhile, Mueller’s team and Papadopoulos’s lawyers delayed a check-in with the judge until late April. Neither Papadopoulos nor Flynn have a sentencing date scheduled.
Several GOP strategists told Politico they’re concerned about the prospect of Manafort’s trial taking place around the midterm elections.
“The timing of the Manafort-Gates trial will dictate major coverage going into early voting,” said Republican strategist John Weaver. “And this is without knowing for certain how many more indictments and how much closer this Siberian political cancer gets near the Oval Office.”
So if all signs point to the Russia probe continuing at least through fall 2018, and everyone knows Cobb’s timeframe is unrealistic, why does he keep changing the investigation’s expected end date? We hate to say it, but it’s possible the guy who loudly blabbed about conflicts between Trump’s attorneys while dining at a D.C. steakhouse isn’t the world’s sharpest legal mind.