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Addition Of Emmet Flood To Trump's Legal Team Could Signal A Different Approach

May 11, 2018
Originally published on May 11, 2018 4:04 pm
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President Trump faces no shortage of legal challenges - none bigger, of course, than Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. To help manage the administration's response to the Russia probe, Trump has hired Emmet Flood. He's a prominent Washington lawyer with a sterling reputation and a resume that already includes work for two presidents. NPR's Ryan Lucas has more.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Those who have worked with Emmet Flood describe him as cerebral, scholarly and cool under fire, a lawyer who would be just as comfortable writing a brief for a Supreme Court case as he would be making arguments in a bare-knuckle courtroom trial.

SCOTT COFFINA: Emmet's a pretty low-key guy. He's not a table pounder.

LUCAS: That's Scott Coffina. He worked with Flood as a White House lawyer in the George W. Bush administration.

COFFINA: He's not flamboyant. He's very thoughtful, effective in a low-key manner, not boisterous, not arrogant but very firm.

LUCAS: That low-key approach stands in contrast to the president's other new lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has turned heads with a series of eyebrow-raising interviews with the media. Flood, in contrast, has kept his head down. He has made no media appearances since joining Trump's stable of lawyers last week. He did not respond to an interview request from NPR. Instead, he's been meeting with other members of Trump's legal team to get up to speed. That under-the-radar approach comes as no surprise to Glen Donath, who worked with Flood on President Bill Clinton's legal team during Clinton's impeachment.

GLEN DONATH: I don't think you'll see Emmet taking any kind of a role in the press and trying to litigate this through press appearances and tweets and public statements.

LUCAS: Flood's focus, Donath says, boils down to this.

DONATH: Emmet is a lawyer's lawyer who does his work either behind the scenes or in a court of law.

LUCAS: Still, Flood's addition likely signals a more aggressive stance from the White House in its relationship with the Mueller investigation, particularly over executive privilege. A man who has had firsthand experience butting heads with Flood over White House prerogatives is Elliot Mincberg.

ELLIOT MINCBERG: He was a fierce defender of executive privilege and prerogative.

LUCAS: Mincberg served as chief oversight counsel for the House Judiciary Committee when the panel was investigating the Bush administration's firing of U.S. attorneys. He says Flood dug in his heels and was unwilling to compromise on handing over certain executive materials the committee had voted to obtain, which is partly why, he says, Flood is a good hire for team Trump.

MINCBERG: I think it was a smart move, frankly, for the White House to add someone like Emmet Flood. And I think it suggests that the White House is - appears to now be in a mood to fight.

LUCAS: Former colleagues say that Flood's views on presidential privilege and prerogatives are rooted in his past White House work. Flood was one of the key architects of the legal defense to the articles of impeachment against Clinton during the investigation of independent counsel Kenneth Starr. That experience also helped fuel his skepticism of special prosecutors with a wide-ranging mandate. Again, Donath.

DONATH: Those of us who represented President Clinton became very sensitive to prosecutorial overreach, to the unique dangers presented by an independent counsel with roving jurisdiction and through partisan exercises that looked like efforts by the opposing party to try to replace the president that was properly elected.

LUCAS: President Trump and his allies, of course, have frequently accused Special Counsel Robert Mueller of roving far beyond his mandate in the Russia investigation. Giuliani says Flood's role in the White House will be to act as counsel to the presidency as an institution rather than as an attorney to the president himself.

Still, the job is not risk free. One big asterisk, of course, is President Trump's well-documented habit of ignoring legal advice. But that concern wasn't enough to deter Flood. Those who know him say he's a believer in public service. And they also acknowledge the attraction and challenge of working on a job with stakes as big as they come. Ryan Lucas, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.