White House lawyer Cobb predicts quick end to Mueller probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White House special counsel Ty Cobb predicts the cloud of an investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election will soon be lifted from President Donald Trump and says he would be “embarrassed” if it still hangs over the president in 2018.

FILE PHOTO: Special Counsel Robert Mueller departs after briefing the U.S. House Intelligence Committee on his investigation of potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Cobb told Reuters this week that he talks to Trump on an almost daily basis and has been in contact with the team of Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Mueller is investigating possible collusion between Trump’s campaign team and Russia, as well as possible money laundering by at least one former aide.

But Cobb, who resigned from law firm Hogan Lovells to take the White House job on July 31, said in interviews on Tuesday and Wednesday he believed Mueller’s probe was “narrow” and that by the end of the year Trump should no longer be threatened by it.

“I’d be embarrassed if this is still haunting the White House by Thanksgiving and worse if it’s still haunting him by year end,” Cobb told Reuters, adding: “I think the relevant areas of inquiry by the special counsel are narrow.”

He declined to provide specifics backing his projected timeline, which suggests a speedier end to Mueller’s probe than several outside experts believe is likely.

“The White House would be lucky if sometime in the spring of 2018 this started to wrap up, but even that I think is pretty optimistic,” said Andy Wright, former associate counsel in former President Barack Obama’s White House. “It’s a very complicated investigation.”

Wright said Mueller’s team would have to track down many leads in the United States and overseas, and gather evidence from email accounts, intelligence reports and other sources.

Russia’s government has denied interfering in the election and the president has denied collusion took place.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, declined to comment on any timeline for the probe, the scope of the investigation or any interactions with the White House.

Like all senior White House staff, Cobb, 66, reports to retired general John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff.

As a White House lawyer, he is in a different position than the president’s outside lawyers John Dowd and Jay Sekulow. Cobb would not be able to assert attorney-client privilege to protect his conversations with Trump from a grand jury subpoena.

Trump has said he believes any investigations of his and his family’s finances would be beyond the scope of Mueller’s probe.

Cobb said he believed Mueller’s 16-lawyer team was “appropriately focused” and understood “the urgency to the country and to the presidency” of finishing the probe quickly.

“We have one objective, which is to bring this to a conclusion as quickly as possible,” Cobb said.

Reporting by Karen Freifeld; Editing by Anthony Lin and Kieran Murray