On Wednesday, the White House announced that Ty Cobb, the lead White House lawyer in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, is retiring. He will be replaced by Emmet Flood, a veteran Washington lawyer. Headlines highlighted the fact that Flood, who currently works at Williams & Connolly LLP, represented President Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial.
But one of Flood’s other experiences may be more crucial to reshaping the Trump White House’s legal strategy: Flood worked for two years in George W. Bush’s White House Counsel’s office, where, according to his current bio, he “had lead responsibility” in “executive-privilege-related disputes.” On Wednesday, MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace reported that Flood’s addition to the team signals a decision to “exert executive privilege more aggressively.”
Executive privilege, when invoked, allows presidents to retain certain executive-branch communications, shielding them from Congress or the federal judiciary. The theory is that presidents require candid and unvarnished advice in order to govern effectively. But asserting executive privilege to fend off requests from Mueller would mark a dramatic shift for the White House’s legal strategy.
Cobb, by contrast, counseled maximal cooperation with Mueller. In a statement released Wednesday, Cobb insisted his departure shouldn’t be viewed as a signal the White House is “going to war.” He continued: “The key point is all the documents requested by the special counsel were produced by late October. All the interviews with White House personnel were conducted by late January. The bulk of the work was done.” The Times reported Wednesday that White House Counsel Don McGahn thought Cobb shouldn’t have so readily provided documents to the special counsel—and instead should have explored using executive privilege.