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Ty Cobb Joins Growing Roster Of Lawyers Inside Trump's White House

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Ty Cobb, not the long-dead baseball great but his distant relative, the Washington lawyer, is going to work at the White House. The former federal prosecutor's brief will be responding to investigations into Russian meddling in last year's election.

For more on what it means to be a White House lawyer, we now turn to Jeffrey Rosen. He is president and CEO of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Welcome back.

JEFFREY ROSEN: Great to be back.

SIEGEL: And what's the significance of adding a lawyer like Ty Cobb to the White House team?

ROSEN: It shows that the Trump White House has learned a crucial lesson of any Washington investigation, which is lawyer up. On the most basic level, it makes sense to have a special person in the White House counsel's office to respond to all the document requests that are coming from Congress and from the special counsel and from other investigators. But more significantly, the Trump White House is learning what the Clinton White House learned before, which is that there are very complicated interactions between lawyers for the White House Counsel's Office and the president's personal lawyers. And you need to have as many of them and make them as good as possible on both sides.

SIEGEL: Well, Ty Cobb is joining the lineup of lawyers who I believe represent the White House. There's also White House Counsel Don McGahn. Marc Kasowitz is Donald Trump's personal lawyer. So is John Dowd. I think Jay Sekulow is also. So who, for example, enjoys a lawyer-client privilege with Donald Trump?

ROSEN: President Trump's personal lawyers enjoy greater attorney-client privilege than the White House Counsel's Office does. That means that the president may have an incentive to tell their personal lawyers stuff that they don't tell the White House Counsel's Office. But that can lead to problems because the counsel's office has a responsibility for representing everyone in the executive branch, and how exactly they interact can be quite complicated.

SIEGEL: The distinction being here that Marc Kasowitz - some people say Kasowitz is being pushed aside by the hiring of Ty Cobb. You're saying they really have rather different briefs. Kasowitz is Donald Trump's personal lawyer, and he enjoys a lawyer-client privilege - Trump does - with Kasowitz. Cobb joins McGahn I guess in being counsel to the executive branch.

ROSEN: That's exactly right. And they do have different roles. Although sometimes they overlap. The president's personal lawyer - his criminal lawyer is responsible for his personal criminal liability, whereas the White House Counsel's Office has a much broader brief. They're responsible for representing the constitutional interests of the executive branch and also for representing other people in the executive branch. And these investigations, as we've learned in the past, tend to involve a whole lot of people who are not the president. So the White House Counsel's Office has an extraordinarily broad series of authorities that transcend that of the president's personal lawyer.

SIEGEL: Could they conflict? I mean could one of them be saying, no, I don't want you to disclose that about my client and the other one saying, no, we - it's in the interests of the White House for us to do so?

ROSEN: Yes, the White House Counsel's Office and the president's personal lawyer have conflicted in the past. During the Clinton administration, the White House Counsel's Office often argued in favor of turning over documents because they thought it would look bad politically not to do so where the president's personal lawyer said, no, don't turn over the documents; that could increase personal liability. They may have different views about strategy. And the interests of the presidency and that of President Trump personally may conflict as well.

SIEGEL: Do you think we've topped out with the number of lawyers that can be involved in this? Are we at the total roster now?

ROSEN: (Laughter) We've never topped out for the total number of lawyers in Washington. As we know, it's like the State Room scene at "A Night At The Opera." This is just the beginning of the tremendous number of people who'll be crowding to serve and represent the president and to deal with the many knotty legal issues ahead.

SIEGEL: Jeffrey Rosen of the National Constitution Center, thanks for talking with us.

ROSEN: Pleasure as always.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHALLOU'S "DOUBT - SUMMER EDIT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.