Former White House lawyer Ty Cobb spoke to ABC News’s “The Investigation” podcast, and plenty are focusing on his comment that Robert S. Mueller III is an “American hero” and that Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election isn’t a witch hunt.
But that’s not the most enlightening comment. (Nor is it new.)
Elsewhere in the interview, Cobb rather gently alludes to the discord in the White House and the many challenges of serving the 45th president. One quote is particularly timely, given recent events.
“You know, he is a very direct — forceful — presence,” Cobb said of Trump. “He wants to get stuff done. He hates obstacles. And he reacts strongly in the face of obstacles to try to move them out of the way, or find somebody who will move them out of the way for him so he can do things. It’s a challenging environment. And it’s not for everybody. But it was — it was a fascinating task.”
Cobb’s comments come as a series of reports speak directly to his point: Trump pushing for very questionable action with regard to the “obstacles” he faces.
It was reported last week that Trump ordered then-Chief of Staff John Kelly to get Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a long-delayed security clearance. In the process, Trump disregarded the reservations of career intelligence officials who worried about foreign governments having leverage on Kushner. Kelly and then-White House counsel Donald McGahn were both reportedly uncomfortable with the request and wrote memos about it.
Similarly, the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reported Monday that Trump ordered then-chief economic adviser Gary Cohn to pressure the Justice Department to file a lawsuit to block AT&T’s attempt to acquire Time Warner. Time Warner owns CNN, which is a constant target of Trump’s ire.
In both cases, Trump flatly denied involvement, but subsequent reporting indicates he forcefully tried to push aside his obstacles even as aides objected.
There are many more examples of this. Last month, the New York Times reported that Trump tried to persuade then-acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker to get an ally un-recused from overseeing the Southern District of New York’s investigation of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. Trump has allegedly tried to get Mueller fired twice. He reportedly leaned on then-FBI Director James B. Comey to drop his investigation of Michael Flynn. And he dictated his son’s misleading denial about the Trump Tower meeting, even as aides said he shouldn’t get involved.
Trump has denied many of these reports, which are often based on anonymous sources, and the White House has often suggested these amounted to innocuous suggestions or just the president blowing off steam. But here we have a man who had a front-row seat for a lot of it, and he acknowledges (diplomatically) that Trump doesn’t seem to have had much regard for the legal or ethical limits he faced as president. Cobb tacitly confirms that his and others’ jobs often required dealing with a frustrated Trump pushing the envelope with his requests.
The question when it comes to Trump and the Mueller probe is whether these mere requests — and the times when Trump successfully shed those obstacles — might rise to the level of obstruction of justice. Cobb clearly suggests Trump was a man who needed wrangling to try to prevent that.