Ty Cobb, the Trump administration’s lead lawyer in charge of dealing with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, is quitting. His replacement? Emmet T. Flood, an attorney who represented Bill Clinton during his impeachment and who is almost certain to take a more aggressive stance in his dealings with the Mueller team.
“Emmet Flood will be joining the White House Staff to represent the President and the administration against the Russia witch hunt,” the White House said in an official statement said to press.
This is hugely significant: Mueller will finally be facing an opponent who has a similar stature and record of public service.
Flood is an extremely well-respected lawyer who is, by all accounts, well suited to his new job. After representing Clinton, he went on to work for the White House Office of Legal Counsel under George W. Bush, in which he handled the administration’s response to congressional investigations.
He’s someone who knows what it’s like to work for a president who’s in trouble, and how to use the law to defend them. That’s leading experts to conclude that he could mount a serious defense against Mueller’s investigation, battling their requests for information and challenging elements of their work in court.
“I know Emmet — in fact, he briefed me during the Bush to Obama transition when I was coming in as special counsel and he was headed out. He’s one of the very best,” Norm Eisen, the White House ethics czar in the Obama administration, tweeted after the news broke. “This will be a fight for the ages.”
Cobb was a private defense attorney with little experience handling a federal inquiry like this. His approach had largely been to cooperate with Mueller. Cobb was open to a Mueller interview, even signaling that he was still interested in an ABC interview that aired just before news of his departure broke.
That will likely change. The New York Times, which broke the news of Flood’s likely hiring, suggests that Flood would “take a more adversarial approach to the investigation than Mr. Cobb.” Not only is Flood capable of going toe to toe with Mueller, but it seems he also actually wants to.
Trump’s legal team finally found someone who may be up to the job of battling Mueller
The Flood-for-Cobb substitution, however, may be too late in the game to make a difference.
The White House legal team has been in shambles, riven by infighting and high turnover rates, for the past few months. We don’t know what advantages this has given to the Mueller team — that office rarely leaks — but we have to assume they’ve taken advantage of their opponents’ disorganization and built up a lot of advantages (in terms of information and planning) that may prove hard to combat.
Emmet Flood is the kind of man you’d bring in to right a sinking ship. But given how long the Trump team has been a mess, it’s possible he’ll just be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.