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Huang's Lawyer Earns Top Marks for ManeuveringBy Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 12, 1997; Page A06
If John Huang emerges from the shadows to testify in the Senate's campaign finance investigation, it will likely be the result of some inventive maneuvering by his public emissary, lawyer Ty Cobb.
Cobb is in the midst of negotiations over Huang's testimony with lawyers for the majority and minority staffs of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. If the lawyers seal a deal, the Senate committee will have a star witness and Cobb's anxious client will have a chance to defend himself publicly.
Both sides are meeting over the weekend to discuss whether there is a way for Huang to come forward to answer the most serious allegations made about him: that he was involved in economic espionage or was an agent of a foreign government.
Huang wants limited immunity in exchange for testimony about his fund-raising for the Democratic Party. Cobb must overcome objections that granting his client even limited immunity would ultimately make any criminal prosecution of Huang impossible, or find another arrangement under which Huang could testify without providing evidence the Justice Department could later use against him.
Cobb's unexpected offer this week to produce Huang for the hearings won admiring nods from other defense lawyers involved in the proceedings, who saw it as legally tricky for the committee to agree to but politically difficult to turn down.
"It's a wonderful ploy; it throws a wrench into the proceedings," said Breckinridge L. Willcox, who is representing fund-raiser Charles Yah Lin Trie's companies in the investigation. Willcox, a former prosecutor who beat Cobb out for the U.S. attorney's job in Baltimore in 1986, called Cobb "very creative."
"Having him there would destroy their whole strategy" of building a circumstantial case against an absent target, said one source close to the investigation. But this source predicted that if the hearings do not find a stronger focus soon, "the pressure on these guys will become so immense they'll need him."
Cobb has thus far emerged as the most high-profile, and most aggressive, of a cast of high-priced, white-collar defense lawyers representing witnesses expecting to be called before the committee. Among the other lawyers who are tangling with the committee are Robert Bennett, for former White House adviser Harold Ickes; Reid Weingarten, for DNC contributors Charles Yah Lin Trie and Pauline Kanchanalak; and William Taylor, who represents former DNC finance chairman Marvin Rosen and ex-White House aide Mark Middleton.
Cobb, 46, a distant relative of the former baseball great of the same name, is a top litigator at Hogan & Hartson, Washington's biggest law firm. Associates, and even rivals like Willcox, said the offer to produce Huang is aggressive lawyering of the sort Cobb has been known for, going back to the mid-1980s when he was prosecuting some of the region's most violent drug kingpins.
In those days Cobb cut a wide swath in the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore, serving as chief of the criminal section and heading up the region's drug enforcement and organized crime task force. Some of his cases could have come right out of the show "Homicide." One of the most dramatic was the prosecution of drug dealer Lascell Simmons for the murder of Marcellus Ward, a popular Baltimore police detective working undercover for the DEA task force.
"He's probably the best prosecutor I ever worked with," said police veteran Gary Childs, who worked with Cobb to put Simmons in prison. "He was totally committed to this case."
The Simmons case was one of several Cobb handled in which witnesses were slain, and he was the target of several serious death threats himself. After Baltimore drug dealer Anthony Grandison put out a contract to have him killed, Cobb was forced to send his wife away, seek protection from U.S. marshals and wear a bulletproof vest to the courthouse. There were also threats on his life during the prosecution of Prince George's County heroin kingpin Issac Tindle.
"The decade from 40 to 50 has definitely given him new patina and veneer," said longtime friend Thomas F. O'Neil III, a lawyer for MCI Communications.
Cobb, a graduate of Harvard and Georgetown Law School, had the backing of former U.S. attorney George Beall and made the short list of names the Reagan White House considered for the U.S. attorney's job. He left the office for private practice when Willcox was nominated, spent two years at the old-line Baltimore firm of Miles and Stockbridge, then helped persuade Hogan & Hartson to open offices there.
Cobb is now one of Hogan's leading partners, sitting on the five-member executive committee that runs the 440-lawyer firm. He commutes to Washington frequently, battling the Food and Drug Administration on behalf of breast implant manufacturers and generic drug manufacturers accused of fraud.
Although Cobb is an active Republican, Huang is not the first high-profile Democrat he has represented in a congressional probe. He also represented former White House aide David Watkins, who was investigated by the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee for his role in the White House travel office firings.
Cobb was brought into the Huang representation by partner Jack Keeney, who met Huang while doing legal work for the Democratic National Committee.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company