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White House Shakes Up Legal Team Amid Public Duel Over Mueller Subpoena

White House attorney Ty Cobb is retiring at the end of this month and veteran Washington lawyer Emmet Flood, who helped President Bill Clinton in his impeachment proceedings in the late 1990s, has signed on to replace him, the White House said Wednesday.

Press secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed the changes after a report by The New York Times. The change in personnel follows other recent alterations to President Trump's legal team, including the addition of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the departure of onetime counselor John Dowd.

Cobb, "a friend of the president," did "a terrific job," said Sanders.

Flood, Sanders said, "will be joining the White House staff to represent the president and the administration against the Russia witch hunt."

The shakeup in Trump's coterie of legal advisers is taking place as two camps within it appear to be dueling over how to handle a prospective interview between Trump and the investigative team of Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller.

One camp, apparently led by Giuliani, wants to keep the door open to an interview. It cites the downsides of not accommodating Mueller: He has threatened to issue a subpoena to try to compel Trump to appear before a grand jury.

That could either spark a drawn-out courtroom war — one in which the White House is seen at a disadvantage — or lead to Trump invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to give evidence, with the concomitant political risks.

Another camp, which had been led by Dowd, wants to take its chances and give Mueller the stiff-arm. Both internal and external advisers to Trump have said the risks are too great in his sitting down for an interview with Mueller or other investigators.

That camp appeared to be making its case this week by outlining, also via the Times, the breadth and detail that Mueller and his investigators would want to cover in a prospective interview with the president.

The Times' report on Wednesday suggested Flood will belong to the second school. He is "expected to take a more adversarial approach to the investigation than Mr. Cobb, who had pushed Mr. Trump to strike a cooperative tone," as the newspaper put it.

Times reporters Matt Apuzzo and Michael Schmidt also raised the prospect that Flood's arrival in the administration could clear the way for the departure of White House counsel Don McGahn, who may no longer be simpatico with Trump.

Flood's law firm, Williams & Connolly, said on Wednesday that it was sad to see him go.

"Emmet is a special lawyer and longtime member of the Williams & Connolly family," said Chairman Dane Butswinkas. "We are disappointed to lose him to the White House, but we fully appreciate Emmet's strong commitment to public service. The White House will be fortunate to have his experienced counsel."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Philip Ewing is an election security editor with NPR's Washington Desk. He helps oversee coverage of election security, voting, disinformation, active measures and other issues. Ewing joined the Washington Desk from his previous role as NPR's national security editor, in which he helped direct coverage of the military, intelligence community, counterterrorism, veterans and more. He came to NPR in 2015 from Politico, where he was a Pentagon correspondent and defense editor. Previously, he served as managing editor of Military.com, and before that he covered the U.S. Navy for the Military Times newspapers.