Pat Cipollone had been working as White House counsel for just two months when his boss issued his first performance review. During a private ceremony in the Oval Office, Donald Trump was walking around the room, shaking hands, when he stopped and greeted Cipollone and his former law partner Tom Yannucci. Cipollone introduced his old friend and told the president that the two had once worked together. “So far, Pat’s doing a great job,” Trump said. “But we’ll know for sure after six years.”
That Trump would brashly predict his own victory in 2020 is no great surprise. What is unusual is that a president who fires top advisers by tweet would signal that Cipollone is here to stay. Perhaps it’s because Trump needs Cipollone more than he needs almost anyone else. The counsel heads a White House legal team that is enmeshed in perhaps the greatest constitutional standoff since Watergate, and he’s now at the center of the administration’s response to a grave new threat to Trump’s chaotic presidency.
According to multiple current and former senior administration officials and Cipollone associates we spoke with for this story, Cipollone is eager to see the White House through this moment, and Trump, at least so far, appears ready to heed his guidance. In his 10 months in the administration, the 53-year-old Cipollone seems to have earned the president’s trust in a way that few aides have done. He is both discreet, and more to the point, clear in his admiration for the president. He is not the sort of lawyer who will refer to the president as “King Kong,” as his predecessor, Don McGahn, once did. Trump has long been tough on his lawyers, demanding loyalists and brawlers in the mold of Roy Cohn, his personal attorney from his time as a real-estate magnate and a former aide to red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy. Trump didn’t believe that McGahn would fight for him with the tenacity of a Cohn, and McGahn himself appeared to be more of a guardrail for Trump than a defender. “I don’t have a lawyer,” Trump complained to McGahn and other aides in the Oval Office two months into his tenure, according to a passage in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.