The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees every American citizen the right “to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.”
If President Donald Trump winds up in the crosshairs of Special Counsel Robert Mueller on some charge unrelated to the Russia conspiracy theory — or if, after next year’s election, he faces a Democratic House determined to impeach him, he might well consider suing his lawyers for violating his rights.
That is because the White House lawyers have proved singularly incompetent in defending President Trump, the administration, and the American people from the whims of a runaway investigation that has little to do with the original question of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Instead, the Special Counsel’s inquiry has become a prosecutorial free-for-all, and a political weapon used to deny the legitimacy of the Trump presidency.
Ty Cobb, a lawyer who was brought to the White House specifically to deal with Mueller’s Russia investigation, predicted boldly in August: “I’d be embarrassed if this is still haunting the White House by Thanksgiving and worse if it’s still haunting him by year end.” He also added: “I think the relevant areas of inquiry by the special counsel are narrow.”
He has been proven wrong on both counts — so perhaps it is time for “embarrassment” and “worse.”
On Thanksgiving Day, it emerged that attorneys for former National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn had stopped sharing information with the White House’s legal team, meaning that it was likely Flynn had decided to cooperate with Mueller. It was entirely foreseeable that he would, given that Flynn’s legal interests were so different from the president’s — especially after he failed to report his work for the Turkish government as required by law.
Somehow the White House legal team seems to have imagined that Flynn would do what was in the president’s best interests, even though he was abruptly fired and essentially thrown under the bus. Nor do they seem to understand that the Special Counsel is at war. He is a consummate “swamp” creature who was hired because of a deliberate act of political revenge, and he is protected by all of Trump’s worst political enemies on both sides of the aisle.
Cobb reportedly clashed with White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn II over how much to cooperate with the Special Counsel. Cobb, a veteran Washington lawyer and consummate insider, assumed that the probe could be handled the way many legal conflicts are handled in the D.C. “swamp” — with the right meetings, the right words, the right handshakes. He urged cooperation with the probe — even if it meant letting underlings take some heat.
McGahn reportedly took a different view, according to the New York Times. He “supports cooperation, but has expressed worry about setting a precedent that would weaken the White House long after Mr. Trump’s tenure is over.” And he was also worried about his own involvement: he knew that he himself was a potential target of the Special Counsel, given his advice to the president in the decision to fire former FBI director James Comey.
Cobb foolishly imagined the Special Counsel was only interested in Russia. And once it was clear that Mueller was exceeding his mandate, Cobb was too invested in cooperation to do what needed to be done — namely, to mount an all-out assault on the Special Counsel’s office, pointing out its excesses and its own conflicts of interest, given Mueller’s and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s involvement in Uranium One, their own Russia scandal.
Worse, neither Cobb nor McGahn seems to understand the dangerous environment in which they are operating. In September, Cobb infamously discussed the investigation with fellow White House lawyer John Dowd while eating lunch outdoors at a popular D.C. restaurant, where they were overheard by Times reporters at a neighboring table. That is inexcusable even for lawyers in an ordinary setting; it is far worse when representing a White House deeply loathed by many in the nation’s capital.
Rather than surround himself with elite “swamp” layers, Trump would be enjoying better legal representation if he simply walked down to the local courthouse and hired a no-name defense lawyer hawking his services — a street-fighter who would find every way to protect his client, who would have no conflicts and no qualms about sticking it to the prosecution, who had no reputation to lose and would therefore put victory ahead of everything else.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.
Correction: the lawyers overheard at the restaurant were Cobb and John Dowd, not Cobb and McGahn. The text has been corrected to reflect that fact.