WASHINGTON – Ty Cobb is really batting a thousand.
The White House lawyer, who shares a name with the baseball legend he claims as a distant relative, has earned fame in his own right this week. He has set Washington atwitter because he had a loud conversation while lunching al fresco outside BLT Steak, a downtown D.C. restaurant, with Trump’s personal lawyer – and within earshot of fellow diner Ken Vogel of the New York Times, which has offices just steps from the restaurant.
Vogel heard Cobb, who is overseeing the White House response to the Russia probe, say, among other things, that one White House lawyer was a “spy” for White House counsel Don McGahn and that McGahn has “a couple documents locked in a safe” related to the Russia inquiry.
Cobb’s indiscretion raises a number of questions:
What did Vogel order? (The tuna nicoise.)
Did he try the popovers? (Yes.)
Did Cobb get food caught in his handlebar mustache? (Probably.)
And: What the hell was Cobb thinking?
The original Ty Cobb, who played a century ago, still has the title for highest career batting average. Less well known: He also holds the record for most career errors by an American League outfielder. The latest Cobb seems to have inherited the error gene. This was his third indiscretion in the past two weeks, the second involving a D.C. restaurant.
Two weeks earlier, Cobb got himself in a late-night email tangle with Jeff Jetton, who owns the D.C. ramen shop Toki Underground. Jetton goaded Cobb into an exchange by making obscene references to Cobb performing a particular sex act on Trump. In emails laced with typos, Cobb referred to the probe as “bulls – Russian bulls – “ and said, against the available evidence, that he is one of the “adults in the room.”
Cobb also fell for a prankster pretending to be White House social media director Dan Scavino and using an account from “@emailprankster.co.uk.” In that exchange, Cobb joked about using drones to attack a Business Insider reporter, Natasha Bertrand, whom Cobb had previously asked, “Are you on drugs?” (Cobb didn’t respond to my email; perhaps I should have used an “emailprankster” account.)
Cobb’s boss has been known to commit the occasional blunder himself. As I wrote earlier this year, McGahn, when representing the Trump campaign, filed virtually the same brief to the Federal Election Commission that another lawyer had filed earlier, an action election lawyers called highly unusual.
And the indiscretions of some of Cobb’s colleagues are legendary, none more so than Anthony Scaramucci’s profanity-laced tirade to the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza during the Mooch’s glorious one-week White House career.
But until now, nobody in the White House but Cobb has been caught discussing sensitive matters within easy earshot of strangers while dining outdoors. Well, nobody except the president, who handled nuclear strategy with the Japanese prime minister while dining outdoors at Mar-a-Lago among members and guests. Somebody posted on social media a photo of the man who carries the nuclear football.
Trump’s misjudgments are as legendary as Cobb’s batting. Just this weekend he retweeted a doctored GIF of him hitting Hillary Clinton with a golf tee shot that originated with an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist using an obscene Twitter handle.
And we’re only eight months in! It won’t be long, at this rate, before Cobb tries to address a sensitive email to White House colleague Stephen Miller but accidentally sends it to Robert Mueller. Or he leaves his briefcase in a taxi and the next passenger is Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) of the House Intelligence Committee. Or he has an incriminating phone conversation with Trump while in an Uber driven by Vogel, who is moonlighting to pay off his BLT Steak tab.
Eventually, the defense secretary will butt-dial Al Jazeera from the Situation Room. And the CIA director, at a Nats game with the NSA chief, will discover with horror that their entire conversation about covert agents has been filmed by the “Kiss Cam.”
Trump chief of staff John Kelly reportedly reprimanded Cobb over BLT-gate. But he deserves a commendation. If there is anything that has saved the country from the full force of Trump’s madness, it is good, old-fashioned incompetence. He hasn’t been able to hire people for many administration jobs, and many of those he has hired have proved to be second-rate, botching everything from handling the Russia probe to repealing Obamacare.
No runs, no hits – and lots of errors.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.