Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer who has overseen legal issues related to the investigation into Russian interference in 2016's presidential election, is leaving the White House.
Cobb plans to retire at the end of May, according to the White House.
"For several weeks Ty Cobb has been discussing his retirement and last week he let Chief of Staff [John] Kelly know he would retire at the end of this month," the White House said in a statement on Wednesday.
Emmet Flood, a veteran white-collar defense lawyer who represented president Bill Clinton in his impeachment proceedings, will be taking Cobb's place, the White House and Flood's law firm both confirmed. The news of Cobb's retirement and Flood's anticipated hiring was first reported by the New York Times.
"Emmet Flood will be joining the White House Staff to represent the President and the administration against the Russia witch hunt," press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. She called Cobb "a friend of the President who has done a terrific job."
Cobb's departure represents the latest in a series of shakeups to the cadre of lawyers representing Trump in connection with the Russia investigation. Former New York City mayor and Trump loyalist Rudy Giuliani joined Trump's team of personal lawyers two weeks ago, along with two former federal prosecutors who run a law firm in Florida, Jane Serene Raskin and Martin Raskin.
Cobb reportedly served as a moderating influence as the president repeatedly criticized special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe as a "witch hunt" and, according to news reports, considered taking steps to remove Mueller. Last fall, a New York Times reporter overheard a conversation between Cobb and another individual at a Washington steakhouse in which Cobb discussed tension with White House counsel Don McGahn. Cobb, according to the Times, had advocated cooperation and turning over many of the materials Mueller's office requested.
Flood's law firm, Williams & Connolly, put out a statement from chair Dane Butswinkas saying that the White House "will be fortunate to have his experienced counsel."
"Emmet is a special lawyer and long-time member of the Williams & Connolly family. We are disappointed to lose him to the White House, but we fully appreciate Emmet’s strong commitment to public service. The White House will be fortunate to have his experienced counsel. We wish Emmet every success in his new position," Butswinkas said.
A source familiar with the situation said that White House Counsel Don McGahn had long advocated bringing Flood into the White House. McGahn sees Flood as a possible successor, the source said, but added that they did not believe McGahn had immediate plans to leave.
Flood and Cobb did not immediately return a request for comment.
Flood took the job because "part of him really wanted to do it" for two key reasons, another source, familiar with Flood's thinking, told BuzzFeed News. Flood — having fought against independent counsel Ken Starr in the 1990s — didn't like the independent counsel provision, the person said. (The independent counsel law expired and was replaced by regulations allowing for special counsel appointments.) Additionally, the person said, Flood believes that part of the underlying basis for the Russia investigation was an attempt to undermine the 2016 election results.
"It's not a full and complete legal team that one would want to have," the person said, referring to having a full team of lawyers including senior partners to lower-level associates. "They don't have that. It's stitched together. But it's obviously a major improvement."
Cobb joined the White House as special counsel last July, leaving his partnership at law firm Hogan Lovells for the job. In a goodbye email to his firm before leaving for the White House, Cobb said he "wasn't going to say NO to a President in need," and that he looked forward to working with the White House "to navigate the turbulent environment domestically and abroad with courage, creativity and integrity."
As news of his retirement hit on Wednesday, ABC published an interview that had taken place earlier in the day with Cobb, in which the longtime white-collar defense lawyer said that an interview between Trump and Mueller's office was "not off the table."
"And assuming that can be concluded favorably, there'll be an interview,” Cobb told ABC. “Assuming it can't be … assuming an agreement can't be reached, you know then it'll go a different route."
Cobb also said there were "no plans to terminate" Mueller. He did not discuss his plans to leave the White House.
The announcement that Cobb is leaving comes amid reports this week, from the New York Times and Washington Post respectively, about a list of questions that Mueller wanted to ask Trump and Mueller's comments to Trump's lawyers at a meeting in March about the possibility of a grand jury subpoena if Trump refused to voluntarily speak with investigators.
In response to Mueller's subpoena remarks, according to the Post, Trump's lead personal attorney at the time, John Dowd, replied, "You are screwing with the work of the president of the United States."
On March 10, the New York Times reported that Trump was considering bringing on Flood, but wasn't expected to replace Cobb, although Cobb reportedly had been telling friends he didn't plan to stay in the job much longer. According to that Times report, Trump had been confident in Cobb's assertions that the investigation would end soon — it is ongoing — but also expressed concerns about the legal strategy.
Trump responded to the March 10 report with a tweet standing by the work of Cobb and other lawyers handling the Russia investigation.
Dowd left the president's legal team less than two weeks later.
Flood is well versed in high-profile political legal controversies. Following his work for Clinton in the 1990s — Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives but acquitted after a trial in the US Senate — he served for two years in the White House counsel's office under former president George W. Bush, handling congressional investigations.
Flood was former vice president Dick Cheney's personal lawyer in connection with the Valerie Plame scandal, and represented Bush after he left office in disputes over congressional demands for information.
Flood and McGahn have run in some of the same conservative legal circles in Washington for years. Flood served in the White House counsel's office during Bush's last two years as president alongside William "Bill" Burck, now a white-collar defense lawyer who has represented McGahn — along with former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and former senior White House strategist Steve Bannon — in connection with the Russia investigation. Burck reportedly was asked to join Trump's legal team last year and declined.
The person familiar with Flood's thinking echoed what has been reported elsewhere, that Flood didn't like the involvement of Trump's first lead outside attorney in the Russia probe, Marc Kasowitz. Although Kasowitz formally left the public-facing team in the summer of 2017, he has maintained contact and some involvement in the past — a sticking point for Flood.
"I'm surprised [that Flood took the job] in the sense that I figured if it was going to happen it would have happened sooner," the person said, noting, however, that the addition of Giuliani could have given Flood enough comfort that Kasowitz would not be running the show from the outside.
"The process depends on having good lawyers involved, and I can't imagine that it hasn't been frustrating to Mueller's team to be criticized for taking too long" given the lack of a first-rate legal team advising Trump, the person said.