Trump was ‘fighting for his political life,’ his former lawyer says, explaining attacks on Mueller

Michael Isikoff
Chief Investigative Correspondent

WASHINGTON — In response to damning new details from special counsel Robert Mueller about President Trump’s efforts to obstruct the Russia investigation, ex-White House lawyer Ty Cobb argues his former client’s conduct was justified because the president “was fighting for his political life.”

“The president was assaulted every day by virtually every newspaper of liberal persuasion and most of the mainstream media and fighting for his political life throughout this and frustrated by his inability to govern,” Cobb said in an interview on the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery.” “The fact that he defended himself is not obstruction.”

Cobb’s comments came in the wake of new evidence in Mueller’s report that has fired up Democrats on Capitol Hill and prompted them to press ahead with their own investigations into the conduct. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler on Friday subpoenaed the Justice Department for a full unredacted copy of the report and plans to call Attorney General William Barr and Mueller himself to testify in coming weeks.

Among the new evidence Nadler and the other Judiciary Committee Democrats plan to explore are the details of Trump’s repeated efforts to interfere in the Russia probe, including directing former White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller and requesting former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to get then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to publicly absolve him and curtail the scope of the investigation. Those directives, and others by the president, were ignored by his subordinates, who considered them illegal, improper or counterproductive.

Cobb, a former federal prosecutor and veteran Washington defense lawyer, was asked if he was troubled by the president’s attempts to interfere in an ongoing Justice Department investigation.

“Certainly, I would have been troubled had he had any effect on the investigation,” he said. “But I don’t think there was any evidence found for that. And I think the president is entitled to defend himself politically. He has the absolute right under Article II to hire and fire anybody in the executive branch.”

In 2017 and 2018, Cobb played a pivotal role in organizing the White House response to the Mueller investigation, negotiating agreements to turn over documents and allow interviews with White House officials.

Cobb argued that this cooperation should weigh heavily in evaluating the president’s conduct.

“You have a White House that contrary to norms that produced every witness voluntarily, that didn’t assert executive privilege, didn’t assert client privileges,” Cobb said, “and produced documents willingly without subpoena — and didn’t assert executive privilege. I think the transparency is in stark contrast here to any suggestion of obstruction.”

Ty Cobb (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Jerry Cleveland/Denver Post via Getty Images)

Download or subscribe on iTunes: “Skullduggery” from Yahoo News

Cobb’s comments echoed those of Attorney General William Barr, who asserted at a press conference Thursday that the White House’s cooperation with the investigation argued against bringing any obstruction charges.

But both Cobb and Barr overlooked other passages in Mueller’s report, which noted the president’s refusal to be interviewed by prosecutors.

“This Office sought for more than a year to interview the President on topics relevant to both Russian-election interference and obstruction of justice,” Mueller’s report states in an appendix on the president’s cooperation. After Trump refused, Mueller’s office submitted written questions. Trump refused to answer any questions relating to obstruction of justice issue. His responses on Russia-related issues were deemed “incomplete or imprecise” by Mueller’s prosecutors, with the president writing “he does not ‘recall’” or does not remember more than 30 times.

The White House also declined to answer follow-up questions, including about Trump’s attempts to open a hotel in Moscow before and during the 2016 campaign.

As late as December 2018, Mueller pressed again for an in-person interview but, the report states, “The President declined.”

_____

More coverage of the Mueller report from Yahoo News: