Ty Cobb’s Claim about White House Counsel Recusal Can Only Be Narrowly True

Politico has a story that has generated favorable press for White House Counsel Don McGahn. He had his entire office recuse from the Russia investigation, it claims, basing the claim on public comments by Ty Cobb.

White House Counsel Don McGahn recused his entire staff last summer from working on the Russia investigation because many of his office’s lawyers played significant roles in key episodes at the center of the probe, former White House attorney Ty Cobb said on Wednesday.

McGahn made the decision to halt his staff’s interactions with Special Counsel Robert Mueller because many of his own attorneys “had been significant participants” surrounding the firings of national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI Director James Comey, Cobb said.


While it’s been widely known that McGahn handed over day-to-day responsibilities to Cobb when he started working in the White House last July, neither of the Trump lawyers had ever specified that the entire White House legal office had been recused from the Russia probe in its entirety.

The story explains something I’ve long been struck by — the claim in a John Dowd document from January that eight members of the White House Counsel underwent voluntary interviews with Mueller’s team.

Over 20 White House personnel (not including Campaign team members) voluntarily gave interviews; including 8 people from the White House Counsel’s Office.

Two-fifths of those Mueller interviewed by January were personnel from the White House Counsel’s Office?!?!

Perhaps it’s better to say that this new Ty Cobb story is best explained by that factoid: The White House Counsel’s office was a subject of real scrutiny for Mueller.

After all, public reporting makes it clear that Ty Cobb did not take over all Russian investigation matters, at least not immediately. He was hired by July 14. As late as mid-September, he was publicly bitching about tensions with McGahn and making it clear McGahn was withholding probably responsive documents.

The debate in Mr. Trump’s West Wing has pitted Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, against Ty Cobb, a lawyer brought in to manage the response to the investigation. Mr. Cobb has argued for turning over as many of the emails and documents requested by the special counsel as possible in hopes of quickly ending the investigation — or at least its focus on Mr. Trump.

Mr. McGahn supports cooperation, but has expressed worry about setting a precedent that would weaken the White House long after Mr. Trump’s tenure is over. He is described as particularly concerned about whether the president will invoke executive or attorney-client privilege to limit how forthcoming Mr. McGahn could be if he himself is interviewed by the special counsel as requested.

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.


Complicating the situation is that Mr. McGahn himself is a likely witness. Mr. Mueller wants to interview him about Mr. Comey’s dismissal and the White House’s handling of questions about a June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer said to be offering incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.

Mr. McGahn is willing to meet with investigators and answer questions, but his lawyer, Bill Burck, has asked Mr. Cobb to tell him whether the president wants to assert either attorney-client or executive privilege, according to lawyers close to the case. Mr. McGahn could face legal jeopardy or lose his law license should he run afoul of rules governing which communications he can divulge. He did not respond to requests for comment.

Unless NYT’s reporting — and Cobb’s public blabbing — was entirely wrong, then Cobb can only mean McGahn later recused (or recused sometime just before the Fall Equinox last year, so technically still summer). It’s possible this incident precipitated McGahn’s recusal — not to mention made Mueller even more interested in interviewing him. More likely, the discovery that McGahn could be interviewed — including about his transparently bad defense of the Mike Flynn firing — led Trump to decide that White House Counsel staffers had to be totally recused from matters that pertained to his legal exposure (though if that’s true, I wonder what Emmet Flood is doing).

Alternately, it’s possible that McGahn recognized that his continued exposure to Trump’s obstruction in conjunction with the Russia investigation exposed him to legal jeopardy. If that’s the case, his recusal wasn’t about ethics, it was about self-preservation.

Update: LemonSlayer noted on Twitter there’s a much later indication of the purported recusal McGahn has adopted: collaborating with the Devin Nunes effort.

Nunes, meanwhile, has purposefully not been talking to Trump, to avoid accusations that he is providing sensitive information to the president, according to these people. Instead, Nunes has been relaying the status of his battle with the Justice Department to White House Counsel Donald McGahn.

47 replies
  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Great work, again. Thank you.

    Interesting point that Cobb may have thought McGahn was hiding “responsive materials”. The media seemed to have cast that in the best light possible for McGahn, characterizing reluctance to cooperate as a principled protection of presidential authority. Far be it from the MSM to stop giving such a well-documented liar president the benefit of the doubt.

    To me, it suggests that Cobb thought McGahn was hiding substantively responsive materials that were not obviously privileged. Knowingly doing that would put both Cobb and McGahn in legal jeopardy.

    Cobb left, and stopped doing whatever it is he may have been uncomfortable with. McGahn is still there. And, yea, what is Emmet Flood doing these days?

              • puniase says:

                It always comes back to the Clintons: The Continuing Story of Bungle All Bill

                Dear Imprudence

                While my Qatar Gently Weeps

                I’m So Tired


                • earlofhuntingdon says:

                  Greenhouse is good, but I concede to you and your gently weeping Qatar.  George H. would be pleased.

                  • punaise says:

                    Maybe George was prescient and wrote this for Monsieur Sekulow:

                    There’s a fog upon D.C.
                    And my friends have made their pleas
                    We’ll be over soon they said
                    Now they’ve lost themselves instead.

                    (And now to Meuller):
                    Please don’t be long please don’t you be very long
                    Please don’t be long or I may be asleep

                    (Back to Jay):
                    Well it only goes to show
                    And I told them where to go
                    Ask a Counsel on the street
                    There’s just one you need to meet

                    Now it’s past my bed I know
                    And I’d really like to go
                    Soon will be the break of day
                    Sitting here in Blue Jay Way


                    Please don’t be long please don’t you be very long

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      The MSM is discovering that Cohen seems to be chasing/changing lawyers.

      One new issue is that McDermott Will was not only being paid by either or both the Trump Org and the 2020 Campaign, but was otherwise doing work for Trump.  An older issue is that MW claims too little experience with the lawyers at SDNY.  The latter seems unlikely.

      Being paid by someone other than the client does not present a conflict, so long as it is clear that the lawyer’s loyalty is to the client, not the source of funds.  But it is a practical problem if Cohen and Trump develop a conflict: it means Trump will stop paying MW.  That’s not a legal conflict, but it means MW and Cohen would have to rethink their arrangement or end it.

      If Trump were also a MW client, and Cohen and Trump developed a conflict, that would create a conflict for MW.

      If either is true, Cohen would be better off with other lawyers.  Someone not concerned about getting paid, who has no conflict with Trump and has the juice to act adverse to his interests and negotiate with the DoJ.  I hope Mikey still has most of the dough he got from selling those two houses.

      • melior says:

        Eh, I think the acronym MW is already in use as a reserved word here, how about “McW” for this law firm.

  2. Webstir says:

    “And, yea, what is Emmet Flood doing these days?”

    Getting paid. At least, that is, until it’s inconvenient to do so anymore. Just like the rest of the DT’s lawyers.

    Sorry … couldn’t help but snark a little.

  3. Trip says:

    I vote for saving his (McGahn’s) own ass. He, like all of the other GOP, made a Faustian bargain to tolerate, accept and mostly protect the Trump corruption, in order to take home goodies. In McGahn’s case, it’s filling all the judicial positions.  His little game with Bannon and the committee testimony via Burke is all you need to know about his “unhandiness” with ethics. I do think Cobb was slightly more ethical, although not competent for the task.

  4. Trip says:

    Discussed last night on Chris Hayes’ show:

    “Dear Leader” propaganda/agitprop in Immigrant camps


    This shit is enraging and terrifying at the same time. This is the same psychopath who says it’s good that Chinese President Xi Jinping is president for life and that Jong un’s starvation, torture and work camps are no big deal. Never mind that he assassinated family members.

    THIS IS THE GOP. The libertarians who believe freedom is only for the top.
    And what does the sign mean/intend? Is that a threat to the people incarcerated there?

  5. Willis Warren says:

    Emmet Flood is getting more notes for the book he’s going to write someday. He’s not going down with this ship, as he represents the office, and not the idiot.

    That’s gonna be some book

  6. Bob Conyers says:

    Is the staff all appointees, or are there career attorneys who have been around for multiple administrations and are fairly neutral?

    Is there a reason not to bring in new staff sooner? Is it that any shadow on McGahn would extend over them even though they were brought in after the events were over?

  7. Trip says:

    @marcy noted today is Trump’s birthday.

    Here is the last tweet from FLOTUS


    Melania Trump‏Verified account @FLOTUS Jun 11

    Thank you @HHSGov & @CMSGov for all you do to protect our children. I encourage everyone to learn more about how your state can help protect our most vulnerable from the effects of opioid abuse. #BeBest

    Which of course says nothing about her husband or the day the earth soured when he was spawned, but it is also is insanely tone-deaf considering all of the reports about how immigrant children are being ripped away from their parents, including infants and babies.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      It’s also the day New York’s Attorney General, Barbara Underwood, a career prosecutor, sues Trump and three of his children, Don Jr, Ivanka and Eric, for “persistently illegal conduct” in running the Trump Foundation.

      The WaPo’s David Farenthold generally does a nice job summarizing Underwood’s complaint, except for this bit here:

      Underwood… [seeks] to apply a penalty usually reserved for the operators of small-time charity frauds to the president of the United States.

      Braaaah.  Thank you for playing, Mr. Farenthold.  New York’s Attorney General is seeking to apply the statute to “the operators of small-time charity frauds.”

      That Trump became president at the end of the series of events for which the Trumps are being sued is happenstance.  It is not legally relevant.

      Trump is being sued for misusing the funds of the state charity he set up in 1987, using them illegally for personal, business and campaign purposes.  That Trump is now president provides him no immunity from suit or liability for acts done prior to becoming president.  His current status as a federal employee does not require a delay in such a civil suit until after he stops being a public employee.

      Underwood’s suit asks the state court to wind up the Trump Foundation, distribute its remaining $1 million to other charities, and for the Trump’s personally to pay $2.8 million in fines and penalties.  (Trump already promised to shut down the foundation in 2016.  That promise, too, remains unfulfilled.)

      The NYAG’s suit follows a 20-month investigation.  It should be a slam dunk.  For starters, the foundation’s board, which Trump heads and which includes Jr, Ivanka and Eric, hasn’t met since 1999.  By definition, that would constitute non-compliance with the board’s fiduciary duties.  Listing alleged personal, business, and campaign misuses of charitable funds going back over a decade, the suit concludes that Trump treated the foundation’s money as his own, as just another pocketbook from which he could draw cash.  Pretty much like he does the federal government.

      Trump has  tweeted that the suit is “politically” motivated, code for false and fake, a form of non-denial denial.  He does not deny the underlying facts, but declares in his usual high-pitched tone that he will not settle.  Good.  Let discovery begin.

      • SpaceLifeForm says:

        I’ve a hunch discovery will be delayed for some time because of IRS. 990 days sounds reasonable.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Underwood’s proceeding is in NY state court, because the Trump Foundation is organized under NY state law and operates out of Trump Tower in Manhattan.

          Additionally, she referred the case to the IRS because the Foundation opted to be treated as a 501(c)(3) charitable or tax exempt corporation, and because of probable violations of the rules governing them, including perjury associated with filing false tax returns. 

          Whether the IRS reacts to that has no effect on the state court proceeding or the state’s obligation to police charities organized and operating under state law.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Let me extend kudos to David A. Fahrenthold, who won a Pulitzer for his earlier 2016 reporting on the Trump Foundation.  It led to the twenty month investigation that resulted in today’s suit by Underwood.

        I stand by my criticism of a peripheral issue, what I consider his mischaracterization of Underwood’s use of the statute in this suit.  It suggests that Underwood’s use is novel and gives her a bigger hurdle to climb.  I do not think it is and she appears to have easily climbed her hurdle.

        His almost throwaway line unduly concedes status to Trump as president that is not relevant to this proceeding and is not consistent with the Trump behavior documented in Underwood’s suit.

        • Bob Conyers says:

          Fahrenthold has done great work, and it’s tragic how few media outlets have done the same kind of reporting — they just don’t want to devote any resources to deep looks into Trump’s finances and other history, and instead spend huge amounts of time chasing superficial stories based on gossipy leaks.

          The stories are there, there are plenty of sources who are interested in talking, and it’s become completely clear that whatever NDAs might have been signed are garbage drafted by the world’s worst lawyer.  Trump’s circle is sloppy, and Fahrenthold has shown they leave evidence available for reporters who have the time to dig. Avenatti has done more in a short time than most media outlets. But the management and editors are somehow unwilling to shift their resources away from the usual hackwork of trying to cover Trump like a normal president. It’s maddening.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Here’s the full complaint from Underwood:

      “This pattern of illegal conduct by the Foundation and its board members includes improper and extensive political activity, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions, and failure to follow basic fiduciary obligations or to implement even elementary corporate formalities required by law.”

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Prolonged gross failure “to implement even elementary corporate formalities required by law” can and should lead to “piercing the corporate veil”.  That is, to disregarding the corporate entity and treating the purported acts of the Trump Foundation as, in fact and law, the personal conduct of its principals – Donald Trump, Don Jr, Ivanka and Eric – with all the knock-on effects that would follow from that treatment.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        One line of defense Trump has thrown up regarding claims that for years he seriously mismanaged his Trump Foundation charity is that his Foundation actually gave away more than it brought in. Hurray!

        The claim, probably from the Don himself, actually dumps Trump in more hot water.  It demonstrates that he and his board failed to meet their fiduciary obligations, a major no-no that should and has yielded Underwood’s complaint.

        A charity’s board of directors, individually and collectively, have fiduciary obligations.  One of those includes ensuring that his or her charity never spends more than it brings in, net of expenses.

        Spending more is textbook mismanagement.  It has many implications.  For example, did the charity spend money it did not have?  That’s fraud.  It almost inevitably leads to accounting and reporting violations, and probably perjury by the officer filing its state and federal reports.

        Did it make commitments it did not keep or fail to collect pledges made to it?  Mismanagement.  Did it fail to accurately account for its revenue and expenses or fail to ensure that it directed funds only to legally eligible parties?  Major violations.

        Underwood’s complaint seems well taken and overdue.  It’s probably no  coinkydink that she is a career prosecutor.  Let the discovery begin.

          • Trip says:

            I just looked at some of this. It seems like he’s trying to invoke Schneiderman, even though he’s gone. Poor Trump, his blackmail card has been played and is out of the deck.

        • Rugger9 says:

          It also begs the question about where that overspent money went (which is what AG Underwood is going after), because after all we already knew from Farenthold’s reporting about many non-charitable expenditures and other, ahem, “overhead” costs. Keep in mind that these sums are generally not tracked unless there’s an investigation.


          Since Kaiser Quisling’s motivation is all about making others pay the bills (contractors, campaign donors, etc.) it seems to me that those alternative options are closing fast.

          It’s not just the palace, either: one of the many deplorable things about Hannity is that he has his own pet charity with an awful lot of overhead.  He’s not alone in FauxWorld.

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Nice tweet thread on Trump’s inability to properly return a salute and his ignorance of when to do it. Hint: foreigners don’t usually qualify, including Canadians and North Koreans. Like handshakes in Asian business cultures, the protocol is exquisitely important.

    The tweetstorm ignores the context that one salutes the uniform, not the person, which makes the whole “salute the president” when in civvies thingy false to begin with.

    Another wee problem the MSM continually ignores, making it worse. The president is not the Commander in Chief of the US. He is CinC only of its armed forces. He is not an American civilian’s Commander in Chief, regardless of how much a few citizens might want to prostrate themselves before his greatness.

    • Rugger9 says:

      Well, at least he didn’t curtsy like he did for the King of Saudi Arabia, but one wonders how many of his Korean War veteran supporters in the VFW will like this kowtowing to their enemy.  Lots of brainwashing and mistreatment of POWs occurred in that war too.

      I haven’t seen the question answered about how the DPRK was able to get 40+ minutes of previously unreleased tape of the summit into their broadcast today (remember the two met alone except for interpreters for 45 minutes).  Did Kaiser Quisling forget to check for film crews like he did when spilling the beans (i.e. Comey, Mossad intel) to the Soviet Russian Ambassador in 2017? What else did KQ agree to in there?

  9. person1597 says:

    Noonces, the poodle who can chair a committee (just not very well), has sekrit info for his master…

    But recently, his owner became worried about Noonces’ rebellious streak, which includes unnatural dancing, playing bongo drums, stealing hubcaps, and being overly concerned about his hair, which is styled into a pompom cut.

    Nevertheless, Noonces, no Nattering Nabob of Negativism, declares defiantly…

    “In my day, we didn’t have safety standards for toys. We got rusty nails and big bags of broken glass! And that’s the way it was, and we liked it! We loved it!” 

    His sekrit? Noonces realizes the futility of rational behavior in that all the ordinary pursuits of mankind are not only fruitless but also illusory insofar as they are oriented toward satisfying an insatiable, blind will.

    THE POODLE BITES! (Come on, Frenchie)THE POODLE CHEWS IT! (Snap it!) THE POODLE BITES! (Come on, Frenchie) THE POODLE CHEWS IT! (Snap it!)

  10. Trip says:

    Sarah Sanders is a wicked-wicked witch, as is Sessions and Trump. So maybe witch hunt is apropos.

  11. Rugger9 says:

    I’m sure this will get its own post later today, but in honor of Paul’s hearing (it’s a race between Paul and Cohen to get a deal), McTurtle decided to demand the end of the investigation before his party’s connivance is exposed.  They’re all compromised, top to bottom.


    Meanwhile, at the palace, Kaiser Quisling threw Paul Manafort under the bus again, a 45-day coffee boy that actually spent over 140 days in the campaign, 59 as chair when Lewandowski was booted. Then for good measure he torpedoed the DACA bill by LyinRyan.



  12. Rugger9 says:

    So, it seems McTurtle is unhappy that his connivance with the Russians will be exposed.


    Also, at the palace Kaiser Quisling threw Manafort under the bus (resurrecting the short-time coffee boy claim for a guy that ran his campaign for 59 days) and for good measure killed DACA again.



    FWIW, Mueller won today v. Manafort.

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