(Bloomberg) -- John Dowd and Ty Cobb were brought onto President Donald Trump’s legal team in part because of their long-standing ties with Special Counsel Robert Mueller -- and there are signs that it’s paying off, as they have maintained a quiet back-and-forth with Mueller and his team over the Russia probe for months.
Dowd, Trump’s personal lawyer, has direct contact with Mueller to make his case and respond to queries, according to three people familiar with the process. Cobb, a White House lawyer, has met with Mueller on several occasions and has been in regular contact with Mueller’s team as he works to hand over documents and set up interviews. Dowd and Cobb also have been instrumental in persuading Trump to back off personal attacks on Mueller, according to the people, who asked not to be identified describing private discussions.
The pair were recruited with full awareness of the long history they share with Mueller, the people said. Cobb has had a friendly working relationship with Mueller for more than three decades, and Dowd shares a common bond over their time as prosecutors and as Marines who served in Vietnam.
Dowd and Cobb were handpicked by longtime Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz over the summer, when it became clear Mueller’s investigation could last months, if not years, and questions were raised about whether Trump had obstructed justice. Kasowitz’s partner, Michael Bowe, suggested Dowd, who he had worked closely with when they were defending Marines involved in an incident where a group of snipers urinated on dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
Kasowitz felt strongly that Trump needed a lawyer who was not only experienced in complex white-collar investigations but would be respected by Mueller and viewed as a peer, said a person involved in the process. While Dowd and Mueller, both in their 70s, didn’t have a personal relationship, the two knew each other well by reputation and operated in a small circle of elite Washington lawyers.
“I know both men hold each other in high regard,” said Mark Corallo, who previously worked as a spokesman for Trump’s legal team and worked with Mueller at the Justice Department. “John has a reputation as being a straight shooter and I think, knowing what I know about Bob Mueller, he responds well to people who don’t play games, who can come in and speak candidly and frankly."
Dowd and Cobb have focused on heading off any friction between Trump and Mueller that could prolong or escalate the investigation. Cobb has also tried to set public expectations that Mueller will begin wrapping up his probe soon, even though a U.S. official said it’s expected to continue well into next year.
Despite recent missteps by the team -- including a recent assertion by Dowd that a president can’t be tried for obstruction of justice -- they have stuck with their strategy. Trump has refrained from lashing out at Mueller personally even though the president has sometimes ridiculed the Russia inquiry as a “witch hunt.” And so far, Trump and the White House have been spared any public spectacles like the early morning raid on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
But if Mueller’s investigations start to close in on Trump or his immediate family, the lawyers’ relationships could be tested.
Mueller, Cobb and Dowd all spent the early part of their careers working as prosecutors. Mueller was an assistant U.S. attorney in San Francisco and Boston, Cobb was in Baltimore working on drug enforcement and organized crime, and Dowd worked at the Justice Department where he focused on racketeering, corruption and tax-evasion cases.
Mueller declined to comment, according to his spokesman, Joshua Stueve.
Recent stumbles show Trump’s legal duo, even with their decades of experience on high-profile cases, aren’t immune to missteps in a politically charged, 24-7 media environment neither has operated in before.
Dowd recently claimed authorship of a Trump tweet that legal analysts said could be interpreted as evidence that Trump obstructed justice in the firing of FBI Director James Comey. A statement from Dowd trying to clarify the tweet created more questions, when he offered the assertion that a president couldn’t obstruct justice.
Over the summer, Dowd and Cobb were overheard by a New York Times reporter openly discussing the investigation at a Washington restaurant and the newspaper published parts of the conversations.
Trump has been irked by some of the media attention his lawyers have received at times, particularly a profile of Cobb in the New York Times, said one person familiar with the president’s thinking.
Cobb’s relationship with Mueller goes back 35 years. The two are friends professionally and would occasionally lunch together when both were young prosecutors.
In the 1980s, Dowd, Cobb and Mueller left their prosecutor posts to go to large law firms. Unlike the other two, Mueller returned quickly, taking a senior position in the Justice Department. After another short stint in private practice, he returned to Washington as a homicide prosecutor. He was appointed U.S. attorney in San Francisco and was subsequently tapped by President George W. Bush to be director of the FBI, leading the organization through the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
By the time the investigations into Russian meddling in last year’s presidential campaign were heating up, Dowd had set up his own practice and Mueller was teaching, speaking and working on external corporate investigations. Cobb, still at a large firm, had recently wrapped up an around-the-world trip. Just as the pair were in the twilight of their careers, they were thrust into the most important legal case of their professional lives.
In addition to their rise up the legal ranks together, Dowd and Mueller share a bond going back 50 years to when they were both Marines in Vietnam, an experience that figured into Trump’s decision to hire Dowd, according to two people familiar with the process.
Both joined the Marines in 1968, and the experience profoundly shaped each of them personally as well as professionally. Mueller was a highly decorated Marine, receiving the Purple Heart, two Navy Commendation Medals and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. He was awarded the Bronze Star for overseeing the evacuation of casualties in a hostile environment, including leading a fire team through dangerous terrain to retrieve a fallen Marine.
Dowd comes from a family of Marines and has stayed involved in the Corps, providing pro bono legal work to Marines. He is known for his combative style, talking in military terms when discussing a case and viewing himself as at war, ferociously battling his opponents.
During the insider trading trial of Raj Rajaratnam, Dowd cursed at and gave the middle finger multiple times to cameras outside the courthouse. He called the prosecutor a crybaby, and he sent an email to a Wall Street Journal reporter calling him a “whore” for Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney who led the investigation into Rajaratnam.
While Dowd hasn’t taken any punches at Mueller, he has signaled there is one issue he’d be willing to battle over -- Trump’s businesses. Dowd has said it would be beyond Mueller’s mandate to look at past real estate transactions by Trump and his company, and Trump has said he thinks that would cross a red line.
“John is impossible to intimidate,” said James Sherry of McCathern PLLC, who worked as an associate for Dowd when he was at Akin Gump. “He really doesn’t care what the DOJ or a reporter or anyone other than a juror, or client, or judge thinks of him.”
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