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Emmet Flood Seen As Likely Next White House Counsel


President Trump's soon-departing White House counsel Don McGahn has played a quiet but vital role. He once threatened to resign if President Trump fired a special counsel, for example. NPR's Tamara Keith reports on the White House lawyer who could replace McGahn.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: When Emmet Flood joined the Trump White House in May, cooperation with Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation was at a turning point. Some three-dozen aides had already voluntarily sat for interviews, and thousands of documents had been turned over. But that was changing. Trump's personal legal team wasn't in a rush for the president to sit down with Mueller's investigators. And inside the White House, Flood put his foot down about another interview the special counsel wanted, this one with chief of staff John Kelly.

JOHN DOWD: He correctly, in my opinion, declined.

KEITH: John Dowd is a former member of Trump's legal team who's still in touch with the president's lawyers.

DOWD: There was a request for an interview with John Kelly, and he handled that because the chief of staff works for the president. And he told Mueller he couldn't interview the chief of staff.

KEITH: Saying no to investigators who have their sights set on the White House is a specialty for Emmet Flood. Glen Donath worked closely with Flood as part of President Clinton's outside legal team during the Starr investigation and impeachment trial.

GLEN DONATH: He is as experienced and knowledgeable about impeachment proceedings and separation of powers, executive privilege and those kinds of issues as any lawyer in the country. Through his experiences and through his temperament, he is - he's aggressive and protective of presidential prerogatives.

KEITH: Flood also brought that approach to his work for the George W. Bush administration. Congressional Democrats were investigating the firing of U.S. attorneys. And Flood, then in the White House counsel's office, wasn't about to make it easy for them, says Elliot Mincberg, who was trying to get documents and testimony Flood refused to hand over.

ELLIOT MINCBERG: He was a very strong defender of the argument that that information should not be provided, even though he was under subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee for which I worked. And we wound up having to take that dispute to court.

KEITH: And the dispute continued even after Bush left office. Mincberg says that fight may be a preview of what's to come if Mueller's team tries to force the issue of a presidential interview.

MINCBERG: If the president and his personal lawyers decide they don't want to do an interview, it won't happen on Mr. Flood's watch without a court order because he will zealously protect the president's prerogative whether ultimately that prerogative is judged right or wrong by the courts.

KEITH: What is Flood doing these days at the White House? Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump's outside lawyers, says he's handling requests from the special counsel when they come in, and he's preparing for battle.

RUDY GIULIANI: He is a legal expert on all these issues about subpoenas, presidential privilege, Article II of the Constitution. His overall work, looking toward a subpoenaed site, is to supervise the research that'll be necessary should they subpoena him if we're not able to reach an agreement.

KEITH: Giuliani tells NPR's Ryan Lucas it's been three weeks since their last counteroffer to Mueller's team about a presidential interview, and they still haven't gotten a response. In the meantime, Flood's name is in the mix to replace outgoing White House counsel Don McGahn. John Dowd says the president likes him.

DOWD: I know from the president and from other people I've talked to that he is very pleased with Emmet Flood, and they have a good relationship.

KEITH: It's not clear whether Trump has offered Flood the job or whether he would even accept it given the risks. But those who know him say he'd be good at it.

SHANNEN COFFIN: He'd be my first choice to have the ear of the president in these times.

KEITH: Shannen Coffin served with Flood in the Bush administration.

COFFIN: You know, he's very reasonable and calm in times of crisis. And I think, you know, there's a surfeit of crisis here.

KEITH: Meaning an excessive amount of something. Tamara Keith, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD'S "HEDRON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.