Political News

Trump Adds Clinton Impeachment Lawyer, Bracing for a Fight on Multiple Fronts

Posted May 2, 2018 8:40 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump hired on Wednesday a Washington lawyer who represented Bill Clinton during his impeachment, a sign that the White House sees no immediate end to its legal problems and is girding for a combative relationship with a new Congress after the midterm elections.

The new lawyer, Emmet T. Flood, will replace Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer who persuaded Trump to cooperate with the special counsel for the first year of its investigation. Cobb assured the president that doing so would bring the investigation to a swift end.

That has not happened, and lawyers say the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is unlikely to conclude his work soon. Trump’s advisers see a new peril on the horizon: If Democrats win control of the House, they would have the authority to issue subpoenas or even convene impeachment hearings.

Flood’s résumé is well suited for such fights. He jousted with Congress and an independent counsel during the Clinton administration. As a White House lawyer during George W. Bush’s second term, he helped fend off congressional investigations into the firing of federal prosecutors. And in private practice, he represented former Vice President Dick Cheney.

“Emmet Flood will be joining the White House staff to represent the president and the administration against the Russia witch hunt,” the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement, adopting the president’s derisive label for the special counsel investigation. “Ty Cobb, a friend of the president, who has done a terrific job, will be retiring at the end of the month.”

Like many veterans of the meandering, yearslong Clinton investigation, Flood has told people he is wary of special counsel inquiries. He has expressed concerns about the scope of Mueller’s investigation in particular, a view that resonates with the president. Cobb, by contrast, has expressed admiration for Mueller and has never adopted the president’s “witch hunt” language. Cobb, 67, was not a supporter of the Trump campaign, and though he expressed fondness for Trump, he repeatedly reminded people that he represented the White House as an institution, not the president himself. “It has been an honor to serve the country in this capacity at the White House,” Cobb said in a telephone interview. “I wish everybody well moving forward.”

Flood is expected to take a more adversarial approach than Cobb, who voluntarily turned over White House documents to Mueller. He has credited that cooperation with preventing a protracted — and losing — subpoena fight that would have hobbled the administration. But the strategy frustrated the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, and some in the West Wing who said Cobb was too willing to accede to Mueller’s requests.

“Cobb’s radical theory of the case, to waive executive privilege from the very beginning, was not simply wrong. It was reckless,” said Stephen Bannon, the former White House strategist. He said that Cobb had been fired, rather than left, after repeatedly predicting the end of an investigation that never came. “Unfortunately, you cannot undo the serious damage he has caused the president and the presidency.”

Cobb responded: “I don’t pay attention to Steve Bannon. I’ve seen all his documents.”

Flood is joining a legal team that has faced upheaval at a critical moment. Mueller wants to interview Trump about his campaign’s ties to Russia during the 2016 election and what he knew about Moscow’s efforts to meddle in the election. Trump has said he is eager to meet with prosecutors, but many of Trump’s advisers believe that is a perilous decision. It is not clear whether Flood agrees, and if he is willing to fight in court to keep Trump from answering questions.

Trump’s decision to hire Flood has been in the works for months. After The New York Times reported in March that he had interviewed for the job, Trump issued an angry denial, attacking the article and one of the reporters who wrote it. And he offered support for the three lawyers on his team, John Dowd, Jay Sekulow and Cobb.

Dowd quit shortly after and Cobb has now been replaced — a level of turnover that is but one measure of the challenges of representing a client who is supremely confident and willing to disregard advice. Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York who is a longtime confidant of the president’s, has come on board, pledging to negotiate an interview for Trump with the special counsel.

In a telephone interview, Giuliani said Mueller had no authority to subpoena the president — an argument that appeared to signal a combative approach. But he also did not foreclose the idea of an interview, as long as the topics were limited and the discussion did not last more than 2 1/2 hours. He objected to some of Mueller’s proposed questions as “amateur psychiatry.”

“How the hell can someone remember what they were feeling two years ago?” Giuliani said. He added that he did not force Cobb from office.

“It was time to make a change,” Giuliani said. “And the new guy, Emmet, will add a tremendous amount of experience, having been involved in representing President Clinton.”

Trump signaled his own impatience with the inquiry on Wednesday evening, saying on Twitter he was too occupied with the demands of the office to devote “much time to be thinking about this, especially since there was no Russian ‘Collusion.'”

The addition of Flood was spearheaded by McGahn. He and his personal lawyer, William A. Burck, have good relationships with Flood and persuaded him over the past several weeks to join the administration. Flood is seen as a possible eventual replacement for McGahn, who has clashed privately with Trump and whose departure has long been rumored.

Flood is arriving from the Washington law firm Williams & Connolly, which specializes in trial work, particularly in high-profile cases. Among its clients are Hillary Clinton, who relied on the firm during the FBI investigation into her use of a private email server. Trump campaigned to cheers of “lock her up!” and has said she should have been charged in that case. “We are disappointed to lose him to the White House, but we fully appreciate Emmet’s strong commitment to public service,” the firm’s chairman, Dane Butswinkas, said in a statement. “The White House will be fortunate to have his experienced counsel.”

There is one area where Flood’s views are unclear: whether the president can or should fire Mueller. Cobb adamantly opposed such a move. “There is not and will not be any consideration of terminating the special counsel,” he said in October.

Cobb’s promises of a swift end to the investigation initially soothed Trump. But as the inquiry dragged on, Trump began openly flirting with the idea of firing Mueller, and perhaps the attorney general and his deputy, as well.

Ultimately, it was Cobb whose departure was announced.