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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Trump hires lawyer who represented Bill Clinton in impeachment

Emmet Flood will “represent the president and the administration against the Russia witch hunt”

The change in Mr Trump’s may herald a more adversarial stance toward Mr Mueller’s team as the president’s lawyers debate whether to make him available for an interview with the special counsel. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
The change in Mr Trump’s may herald a more adversarial stance toward Mr Mueller’s team as the president’s lawyers debate whether to make him available for an interview with the special counsel. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Donald Trump on Wednesday hired a veteran attorney who represented Bill Clinton during his impeachment process as the White House shifted to a more aggressive approach to the Russia investigation that has reached a critical stage.

The White House announced the hiring of lawyer Emmet Flood after disclosing the retirement of Ty Cobb, who for months has been the administration’s point person dealing with special counsel Robert Mueller.

It’s the latest shake-up for a legal team grappling with unresolved questions on how to protect the president from legal and political jeopardy in Mr Mueller’s Russia probe, which is nearing its one-year anniversary.

White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Mr Cobb had been discussing the decision for weeks and would retire at the end of May, and that Mr Flood would be joining the White House staff to “represent the president and the administration against the Russia witch hunt.”

The change may herald a more adversarial stance toward Mr Mueller’s team as the president’s lawyers debate whether to make the president available for an interview with the special counsel and brace for the prospect of a grand jury subpoena if they refuse.

Though Mr Cobb did not personally represent the president, he functioned as a critical point person for the special counsel’s document and interview requests, coordinated dealings with prosecutors and worked closely with Mr Trump’s personal lawyers. He had repeatedly urged cooperation with the investigation in hopes of bringing it to a quick end and viewed his role as largely finished now that interviews with dozens of current and former White House official have been completed.

Yet Mr Flood, who was embroiled in the bitterly partisan Clinton impeachment fight 20 years ago, may well advocate a more confrontational approach. His law firm, Williams & Connolly, is one of Washington’s most prominent, with a reputation for aggressive advocacy for its clients and a history of tangling with the government — but also representing senior White House officials, including presidents.

Mr Flood, a former law clerk to the late supreme court justice Antonin Scalia, has defended former vice president Dick Cheney in a lawsuit brought by former CIA official Valerie Plame and represented George W Bush in executive-privilege disputes with Congress — suggesting he is well-versed in the powers of the presidency and may invoke those authorities as the Mueller investigation moves forward.

Critical decisions lie ahead. The president’s legal team has not committed him to an interview with Mr Mueller, who has dozens of questions on a broad array of topics he’d like to ask. The president initially said he was eager for an interview, but he hasn’t said so recently. His view of the special counsel soured further after raids last month that targeted one of his personal lawyers, Michael Cohen, in a separate investigation.