Donald Trump’s one-time White House counsel said in an interview that among the many legal threats the former president faces, the Justice Department’s sprawling Capitol riot probe is the most dangerous.
“No matter what, the most serious case he faces is the January 6 investigation,” Ty Cobb, who served as White House special counsel in 2017 and 2018, told Insider. “Not necessarily because of January 6 alone but coupled with the fake electors scheme and the interference alleged in Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere.”
“That’s the case that has him at the most risk and is more at the heart of what the Justice Department would take seriously,” he added.
The DOJ’s investigation into the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol has several threads. In addition to prosecuting those who carried out the riot, investigators are also digging into the events that led up to the failed insurrection; any attempts to obstruct the inquiry; and efforts by Trump’s allies to use false slates of electors to undo Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in seven battleground states.
Cobb, who helped coordinate the Trump White House’s response to the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference, told Insider that when he worked with Trump, the former president, “for the most part,” listened to his advice.
But “as time has gone by, he’s gotten farther and farther ahead of his lawyers, to the point where it’s hard to tell if they’re following his advice or if he’s following theirs,” Cobb said.
Trump has repeatedly downplayed the January 6 attack, calling it a “simple protest that got out of hand.” He also accused the Justice Department of going on a politically motivated fishing expedition against his supporters.
But the former president’s attention has shifted in recent days to the department’s ongoing investigation into his handling of official government records. The FBI took the extraordinary step of executing a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago earlier this month where agents recovered more than a dozen boxes, some of which contained classified and top-secret material, that Trump moved from the White House upon leaving office.
The unprecedented raid came after the Justice Department and the National Archives had tried for months to get Trump to turn over the records. According to the FBI’s search warrant, the feds are investigating whether Trump broke at least three US laws, including the Espionage Act, when he took the records to his private residence in Florida.
Peter Zeidenberg, a longtime former federal prosecutor, told Insider on Monday that he believes the department’s investigation into Trump’s handling of the documents is “the most direct and immediate threat by far” to the former president.
He added that Attorney General Merrick Garland and other top DOJ and FBI officials are “politically savvy” and likely anticipated the blowback from Trump and his allies following the raid.
“The only reason they would open themselves up to it is if they thought” that the public would view the raid as “being completely defensible once the facts came out,” Zeidenberg said.
“I think that it’s going to be a pretty clean case,” he said, adding that by contrast, the department’s Capitol riot probe is much more complex.
“I’m not saying it couldn’t be done or it shouldn’t be done,” but “it would take two years to prepare that case” and months to then present it, Zeidenberg told Insider. “There would be tons of legal issues, and it would be a really heavy lift.”
In addition to the DOJ’s criminal investigations into the Capitol riot and Trump’s handling of government records, the former president also faces legal threats on a state level.
In Georgia, the Fulton County district attorney’s office is investigating if Trump and his allies broke laws in their quest to nullify Biden’s 2020 victory in the state. And in New York, the Manhattan district attorney’s office recently secured a plea deal with Trump’s chief bookkeeper, Allen Weisselberg, who last week pleaded guilty to more than a dozen felonies and agreed to implicate the Trump Organization.
“He should be worried about all these investigations,” one lawyer familiar with the Trump team’s thought process told Insider last week. “I think he’s a target of all of them and I think he’ll get indicted.”
The former president has criticized the FBI’s search as a corrupt exercise of power, and his legal team filed a motion Monday requesting that a special master be appointed to review evidence that the FBI seized from Mar-a-Lago.
Cobb told CBS News on Friday that he thinks the Justice Department might also be in favor of appointing a special master to “err on the side of caution.”
“This is an unprecedented prosecution, investigation of a former president,” Cobb said. “This has never happened before, so I think I would want to play it by the letter of the law.”