Stakes rise as Trump le­gal team beefs up

Lawyers eye us­ing ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege on Mueller re­port

The Morning Call (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Carol D. Leon­nig

WASH­ING­TON — A beefedup White House le­gal team is gear­ing up to pre­vent Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s con­fi­den­tial dis­cus­sions with top ad­vis­ers from be­ing dis­closed to House Demo­cratic in­ves­ti­ga­tors and from be­ing re­vealed in the spe­cial coun­sel’s long-awaited re­port, set­ting the stage for a po­ten­tial clash be­tween the branches of gov­ern­ment.

The strat­egy to as­sert the pres­i­dent’s ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege on both fronts is be­ing de­vel­oped un­der newly ar­rived White House coun­sel Pat Cipol­lone, who has hired 17 lawyers in re­cent weeks to help in the ef­fort.

He is co­or­di­nat­ing with White House lawyer Em­met Flood, who is lead­ing the re­sponse to spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s re­port on his 20month in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 cam­paign. Flood is based in White House coun­sel’s of­fice but re­ports di­rectly to Trump.

Trump aides say White House lawyers are fo­cused on pre­serv­ing a le­gal pro­tec­tion rou­tinely in­voked by pres­i­dents of both ma­jor par­ties.

But any ef­fort to fight in­ves­ti­ga­tors is likely to fur­ther in­flame Trump’s re­la­tion­ship with Demo­cratic lead­ers and could lock the ad­min­is­tra­tion and Con­gress in pro­tracted le­gal stand­offs that may ul­ti­mately go to the Supreme Court.

Of par­tic­u­lar con­cern to Democrats: whether the White House will seek to use ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege to keep pri­vate any por­tions of Mueller’s re­port that ad­dresses al­leged ob­struc­tion of jus­tice by the pres­i­dent.

There is a grow­ing sense that the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion could come to cul­mi­na­tion soon. Some Trump ad­vis­ers think Mueller could de­liver the con­fi­den­tial re­port ex­plain­ing his find­ings to se­nior Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials next month. Un­der the rules au­tho­riz­ing the spe­cial coun­sel, the at­tor­ney gen­eral can then de­cide whether to share the re­port or parts of it with Con­gress and the pub­lic.

Some House lead­ers have vowed to seek to ob­tain a copy of Mueller’s find­ings. But the White House would re­sist the re­lease of de­tails de­scrib­ing con­fi­den­tial and sen­si­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween the pres­i­dent and his se­nior aides, Trump ad­vis­ers say.

It is un­clear whether the spe­cial coun­sel’s re­port will re­fer to ma­te­rial that the White House views as priv­i­leged com­mu­ni­ca­tions ob­tained from in­ter­views with se­nior White House of­fi­cials. Some Trump ad­vis­ers an­tic­i­pate that Mueller may sim­ply write a con­cise memo lay­ing out his con­clu­sions about the pres­i­dent’s ac­tions.

How­ever, Rudy Gi­u­liani, one of Trump’s per­sonal at­tor­neys, said the pres­i­dent’s lawyers have made clear to Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials that they want to see Mueller’s com­pleted re­port be­fore the depart­ment de­cides what to share with Con­gress. Their aim: to have a chance to ar­gue whether they be­lieve some parts should re­main pri­vate un­der ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege, Gi­u­liani said.

“At that point, we can de­cide whether we have ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege ex­cep­tions to the re­port,” Gi­u­liani said.

If the Jus­tice Depart­ment agrees with the White House coun­sel that the re­port or por­tions of it should be with­held from the pub­lic, the House could try to sub­poena the doc­u­ment, Gi­u­liani said — but the White House could then go to court to re­sist its re­lease.

The le­gal show­down could be one of the most sig­nif­i­cant de­bates over pres­i­den­tial ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege since Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon sought to block the re­lease of his White House tapes in the Water­gate in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Ron­ald We­ich, an as­sis­tant at­tor­ney gen­eral un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, said the Mueller re­port will be of such “over­whelm­ing in­ter­est” to Con­gress and to the pub­lic that it is highly likely the courts would rule in fa­vor of Con­gress re­ceiv­ing it, as the Supreme Court did

— Rudy Gi­u­liani, one of Trump’s per­sonal at­tor­neys

in or­der­ing Nixon to turn over his tapes in July 1974. Nixon re­signed the fol­low­ing month.

Fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing the cur­rent dy­namic is a pos­si­ble change in Jus­tice Depart­ment over­sight of the spe­cial coun­sel probe, which Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein has con­tin­ued to su­per­vise day to day un­der Matthew Whi­taker, the act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral.

Trump’s nom­i­nee for the top post, for­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr, has crit­i­cized as­pects of Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Rosen­stein is ex­pected to leave the Jus­tice Depart­ment if Barr is con­firmed, al­though the tim­ing of his de­par­ture is un­clear.

In prepa­ra­tion for the loom­ing le­gal bat­tles, Cipol­lone has been beef­ing up the White House coun­sel’s of­fice, which was down to fewer than 20 lawyers late last year, com­pared with 40 to 50 in past ad­min­is­tra­tions. Four of the five deputies un­der pre­vi­ous White House coun­sel Don­ald McGahn had left the of­fice, The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported last year.

Since his ar­rival in De­cem­ber, Cipol­lone has ex­panded the staff to about 35 lawyers, ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said, and he aims to bol­ster the ranks to 40 in the com­ing weeks. He also hired three deputies, all with ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence in the Jus­tice Depart­ment and Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tions.

Cipol­lone, a long­time lit­i­ga­tor who worked briefly in the 1990s for then-At­tor­ney Gen­eral Barr, de­clined to com­ment. But Jay Seku­low, one of Trump’s per­sonal at­tor­neys, said the new White House coun­sel has quickly as­sem­bled a stable of top-notch lawyers.

“It’s al­most as if he’s build­ing a law firm within a gov­ern­ment en­tity,” Seku­low said.

Un­der Cip­pol­lone’s guid­ance, White House lawyers are pre­par­ing a strat­egy to fend off a bliz­zard of re­quests ex­pected from con­gres­sional Democrats, who are plan­ning to launch in­ves­ti­ga­tions into an ar­ray of top­ics such as Trump’s fi­nances and con­tro­ver­sial ad­min­is­tra­tion poli­cies.

Cipol­lone’s goal, Trump aides said, is to try to find com­mon ground with Democrats in re­spond­ing to their sub­poe­nas when he can, but to draw a clear line that would pro­tect the con­fi­den­tial­ity of the of­fice of the pres­i­dency.

Peo­ple who know Cipol­lone de­scribe him as a self-ef­fac­ing lis­tener who will work to build re­la­tion­ships on Capi­tol Hill.

Cipol­lone first met Trump when Fox News com­men­ta­tor Laura In­gra­ham, a friend, rec­om­mended him to help pre­pare the then-can­di­date for the 2016 pres­i­den­tial de­bates. He be­gan in­for­mally ad­vis­ing Trump’s team of per­sonal lawyers in 2018.

“At that point, we can de­cide whether we have ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege ex­cep­tions to the re­port.”

JABIN BOTS­FORD/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

White House coun­sel Pat Cipol­lone, left, and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s act­ing chief of staff Mick Mul­vaney hold court.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.