Special lawyer Robert S. Mueller III and his team of more than a dozen lawyers and investigators have been stealthy in their extensive research on Russia. They have surprised the White House with one accusation after another, and they summoned the confidants of President Trump for long interviews. In the case of former campaign president Paul Manafort alone, according to court documents, they have collected more than 400,000 documents and 36 electronic devices.
Mueller and his deputies are, in the dreaded word of some Trump loyalists, "assassins."  Trump's response, on the other hand, is being led by John M. Dowd, the personal lawyer of the retired president of a large company who works essentially as a one-man band, and Ty Cobb, a lawyer for the White House that works from a small office in the basement of the west wing, near the cafeteria where the employees have lunch.
Dowd and Cobb, along with attorney Jay Sekulow, serve not only as Trump's lawyers, but also as their strategists, publicists, therapists and, according to Dowd's claim that he wrote a controversial presidential tweet, ghost writers.
When Mueller requests documents, they provide them. When Trump reacts to the new twists in the Russian saga, they try to calm him down. When you have questions about the law, like Logan Act or Magnitsky Act, they explain it. And when the president gets upset because Mueller may be getting too close to him, they assure him that he has not done anything wrong, he urges him to resist attacking the special counselor and insists that the investigation is ending. First, they said, on Thanksgiving, then before Christmas and now early next year.
As the lawyer of the highest profile client in the world, every move and statement by Dowd and Cobb has been analyzed – and the criticism has been unkind.
Many in the legal community in Washington reprimand for being indiscreet, prone to mistakes and overcome. They say that public errors, such as Dowd and Cobb casually chatting about their legal strategy in the courtyard of a restaurant specialized in meat from central Washington in September within earshot of a journalist, suggest a lack of discipline.
Critics also question why, seven months after Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, they have not assembled a battalion of lawyers like former President Bill Clinton when he was being investigated by independent lawyer Kenneth W. Starr. And some Trump loyalists, spoiled by a fight, say the president's lawyers should be militant rather than cooperative with Mueller.
"There have certainly been mistakes," said Alan Dershowitz, a criminal defense lawyer and professor at Harvard Law School who won Trump's accolades for his television appearances defending a president's constitutional prerogative to fire his director of the FBI.
"These are not the things one would expect from the most powerful man in the United States, which has the option of choosing someone to be their defense lawyer," Dershowitz said. "Well, almost anyone," he added, saying he was not interested in the job.
This portrait of Trump's legal team and defense strategy is based on interviews with more than two dozen White House officials, lawyers and others related to Russian research, most of whom spoke under the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.
The chorus of criticism may be growing stronger, but Trump is not singing. According to most versions, the president is satisfied with his representation, and talks to Cobb several times a day, although advisers say he has occasionally argued about bringing in new lawyers.
Trump, 71, connects with Dowd, 76, and Cobb, in his mid-60s, as contemporaries. He appreciates his old-school style, and he likes that neither of them appears on television, as he believes that his absence from the waves deprives Russia of what he calls the "witch-hunt" of oxygen, according to the Trump advisors.
A former Marine corps captain, Dowd has a harsh attitude and has shown that he can sometimes cool down Trump's temper and convince him of the virtues of pragmatism over pugnacity. Some Trump advisors dismiss Cobb's predictions that Mueller's research is reaching erroneous conclusions. happy talk, but the president has internalized it as reality. One reason for Trump's faith is his belief that his lawyers are connected. Cobb tells him that he is in frequent, and sometimes daily, contact with the office of the special advisor, according to people familiar with the dynamics.
During Thanksgiving in March at Lake in Palm Beach, Fla., Trump boasted to his friends that Cobb was "brilliant" and that he was sure Mueller would soon exonerate him.
Cobb declined to comment and Dowd responded to an email question in two words: No, thank you. "
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said:" The president is happy with his team legal. "
Cobb works as a White House attorney whose salary is paid by the government and his duty is the office of the president, while Dowd and Sekulow are Trump employees and represent him personally. attorney-client privilege, but not Cobb, which means Mueller could seek access to Cobb's notes or ask him to interview him about his interactions with the president.
Mark Corallo, Justice Department official under President George W Bush, who served as a spokesperson for Trump's legal team earlier this year, Corallo is no longer involved, but praised Dowd and Cobb as "titans."
"They have been at the top of their profession and They were on the list of the top 10 lawyers I would call if she put her panties in a spin, "said Corallo. He added: "One thing I like is that Cobb and Dowd are of the same generation as the president, they are contemporaries, there is the comfort of being able to talk to someone who shares your experience in the world."
Even so, there have been moments of tension. Last Tuesday, anxiety accelerated early in the morning due to a German report that Mueller's office had cited Deutsche Bank for records related to Trump's transactions and people close to him.
Trump was unnerved, but his lawyers tried to calm his irritation and rushed to determine if the report was accurate, aware that if Mueller investigated Trump's finances he would be crossing a red line that the president had publicly established, according to three people familiar with the discussions. After the lawyers consulted with the special lawyer's office, Sekulow issued a statement saying that the Trump team had confirmed that there was no citation for Trump's records.
The key people of the Trump administration in the Russian investigation, including the son of the president, Donald Trump Jr., and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, are represented by different lawyers. But some of the various attorneys, along with Dowd and Cobb, cooperate by sharing information in regular telephone conferences about questions their clients have received and documents delivered.
Witnesses of Mueller's investigation and his attorneys informed Cobb and Dowd said the special lawyer's team asked detailed questions about Trump's dismissal in May of James B. Comey as director of the FBI, which led them to believe that Mueller may be gathering evidence of obstruction of justice, according to one witness.
But Cobb and Dowd told Trump he has no vulnerability, officials said. Dowd went so far as to postulate last week to Axios that a president can not obstruct justice because of his constitutional powers as chief of police, an interpretation that was mocked by some legal experts.
On December 2, Trump tweeted that he had fired Michael Flynn as national security adviser in part because he had lied to the FBI, an admission that could turn in evidence in a research obstruction. Dowd said he wrote the tweet, and his private lawyers said they could not believe such a sloppy statement was written not by the impulsive president but by his lawyer.
One of Trump's advisers told the president that weekend: "The first job of a lawyer should be quiet." The second job of a lawyer is to keep his client's mouth shut, I do not know why they're tweeting and talking and trying to explain the tweet, "according to someone with knowledge of the conversation.
People close to Trump's legal team argue that additional attorneys could result in greater proactivity and careful approach. "It is surprising the stress and the magnitude of representing the president of the United States," said a person familiar with the internal workings. "You would have to be superhuman to do it alone, you have 16 of the best lawyers in the country against you."
For Trump, being in the light of a legal investigation is family territory. Real estate developer and reality television star before becoming a politician, he spent much of his professional life involved in litigation.
When Mueller's investigation into Russia began in May, Trump hired Marc Kasowitz, a New York litigator with a reputation as a fighter who had represented Trump and his companies for years in divorce, bankruptcy and other proceedings, as the lead lawyer.
In the first weeks of the Mueller probe, the tough Kasowitz came in and out of the Oval The office and the adjoining dining room, in what the attendees described as a running commentary – sometimes frantic – with Trump about everything related to Russia.
But Kasowitz had little experience in Washington and in investigations like Mueller's. After he caused great confusion by sending a disparaging and derogatory email to a stranger who had criticized him, Kasowitz parted company with the legal team in Russia. He continues to represent Trump on some other issues.
Trump tried to hire or has considered hiring more than half a dozen litigants to help manage Russian research, including William A. Burck, Mark Filip, Emmet Flood, Robert J. Giuffra, Ted B. Olson, Brendan V. Sullivan Jr., according to several people with knowledge of the president's deliberations. For several reasons, none took the job.
"If you are the president of the United States, usually the best lawyers are waiting in line to launch it," said a person close to the White House and familiar with the dynamics of the legal team. "Here, you have the opposite".
Bob Bauer, who was an adviser to the White House of former President Barack Obama, said when evaluating Trump's legal team: "Some people can blame lawyers, but my main question is, how do you represent to a client like Trump? And at what point do these lawyers decide that they are so cornered, so committed to their behavior, their impulses, their tweets, that they simply can not represent it effectively? " The face of the legal team has been Sekulow, who has deep ties with the Christian right, although he has adopted a lower profile since spring and summer, when he was a frequent presence on television.
Cobb, who had been a partner at Hogan Lovells, enjoys a reputation as an experienced white-collar lawyer whose last high-risk legal case involving Washington's policy was in the 1990s. Dowd has been an advocate High profile criminal and represented Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) During a 1990 ethical investigation into whether McCain had improperly intervened in the savings and loan investigation. He is perhaps best known for representing the baseball commissioner in the late 1980s and for producing the Dowd Report document, which resulted in Pete Rose's lifetime suspension of the sport.
Dowd was widely perceived by other lawyers to be in the twilight of his career, having formally retired in 2015 from Akin Gump, where he worked since 1990.
Dowd lost one of his most recent cases when his client, the hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam was convicted in 2011 of insider trading charges in New York. Preet Bharara, the American lawyer who prosecutes Rajaratnam, reflected on facing Dowd in that trial in an episode last week of his podcast, "Stay tuned with Preet."
"John Dowd said a lot: how should I say it?" Ridiculous and foolish things, "said Bharara, who was fired as an attorney in the United States two months after the Trump administration.
At one point, Dowd was filmed swearing and showing his middle finger to the reporters covering the trial, it earned him unflattering press coverage, but it was the kind of dramatic play that a customer like Trump could see as an attribute.
Sari Horwitz and Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.