The lawyer leading Donald Trump’s response to the special counsel investigation into alleged collusion with Russia is stepping down in the latest shake-up of the White House legal team.
Ty Cobb will retire at the end of the month and reportedly be replaced by Emmet Flood, a veteran lawyer who represented Bill Clinton during his impeachment.
Cobb told the New York Times on Wednesday that he informed Trump of his decision weeks ago. “It has been an honor to serve the country in this capacity at the White House,” he was quoted as saying. “I wish everybody well moving forward.”
Cobb has been the point man dealing with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. In one memorable incident last September, the lawyer was overheard by a reporter talking about the case with John Dowd, another member of the legal team, at a steak restaurant near the White House.
Dowd quit in March, just days after Trump had insisted on Twitter: “I am VERY happy with my lawyers, John Dowd, Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow. They are doing a great job...” Of the three, now only Sekulow survives.
Media reports suggested that Trump had become dissatisfied with Cobb’s conciliatory approach and was looking for lawyers who are more combative, in the mold of his former mentor, Roy Cohn. His newest recruits, Rudy Giuliani and now Flood, who also represented former vice-president Dick Cheney in a private capacity, are expected to fit the bill.
Cobb’s retirement comes as the president’s personal legal team has been negotiating the terms of a possible interview of Trump by prosecutors and a day after Dowd revealed that Mueller’s team in March raised the prospect of issuing a grand jury subpoena for Trump. The New York Times this week published a leak of 49 questions it said the special counsel wants answered.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Wednesday: “For several weeks Ty Cobb has been discussing his retirement and last week he let Chief of Staff Kelly know he would retire at the end of this month.”
Referring to the investigation as a “witch hunt”, she later confirmed: “Emmet Flood will be joining the White House Staff to represent the president and the administration against the Russia witch hunt. Ty Cobb, a friend of the president, who has done a terrific job, will be retiring at the end of the month.”
Meanwhile, Trump appeared to threaten to get involved in a dispute between the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, and Republicans in Congress on Wednesday.
In a tweet, the president said: “A Rigged System – They don’t want to turn over Documents to Congress. What are they afraid of? Why so much redacting? Why such unequal ‘justice?’ At some point I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the Presidency and get involved!”
They seemed to refer to Rosenstein, who said in public remarks on Tuesday that “the Department of Justice will not be extorted” after being asked about articles of impeachment reportedly being prepared against him by some congressional Republicans.
The threat of impeachment is being used as leverage for Republican to get more information about the federal investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election as well as Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.
Earlier in April, the justice department handed over a redacted document about the origins of the Russia investigation to the House intelligence committee after its chair, Devin Nunes, publicly mused about holding law enforcement officials in contempt of Congress or even impeaching them for not cooperating.
Rosenstein said on Tuesday that “if we were to just open our doors to allow Congress to come and rummage through the files, that would be a serious infringement on the separation of powers”.
Trump’s tweets echoed remarks he made last week in a telephone interview with Fox News in which he said “they have this witch-hunt going on with people in the justice department that shouldn’t be there. They have a witch-hunt against the president of the United States going on”.
He added: “I’ve taken the position, and I don’t have to take this position, and maybe I’ll change, that I will not be involved with the justice department.”