President Trump is eying Washington litigator Pat Cipollone to replace outgoing White House counsel Donald McGahn, according to two people familiar with the president’s thinking.
This week, Trump interviewed Cipollone, a former Justice Department attorney who practices commercial litigation at Stein Mitchell Cipollone Beato & Missner, the people said. Trump is “strongly considering” Cipollone for the job, one person said.
Cipollone has been advising Trump’s outside legal team since at least June. He is also close to Emmet Flood, a White House lawyer who is helping handle the special-counsel investigation and is himself being considered for the top legal position.
Cipollone did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump announced Wednesday that McGahn, who has led the administration’s efforts to reshape the judiciary, will leave his post in the coming weeks after the confirmation process of Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh.
Trump tweeted Thursday he was “very excited about the person who will be taking the place of Donald McGahn as White House Counsel.”
According to the biography on his firm’s website, Cipollone has practiced in commercial litigation, trade regulation and health-care fraud. He has extensive expertise in defending corporations as well as handling complex federal investigations and “prepublication negotiations” over defamatory media reports.
He is a former partner at the law firm Kirkland and Ellis, whose attorneys have included Kavanaugh, Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork and former George W. Bush administration solicitor general Paul Clement.
Cipollone is well regarded among some of Trump’s senior advisers, including the president’s outside attorneys, Jay Sekulow and Rudolph W. Giuliani.
“Pat Cipollone is a brilliant attorney,” said Sekulow, declining to comment on the status of Trump’s decision. “I have had the privilege to work with him and can attest to his skill, integrity and knowledge of the law. If selected by the president, he would make an outstanding White House counsel.”
“I know both Pat and Emmet very well, and either one would be an excellent choice,” Giuliani said.
Trump is being urged to make a decision soon to bring in someone who can help the White House deal with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation and the threat of impeachment if Democrats gain control of the House, people close to the president said.
Meanwhile, the White House Counsel’s Office has dwindled to about 25 lawyers, down from roughly 35 earlier in the administration, and many of Trump’s allies fear he does not have the staff or strategy to contend with looming legal challenges.
Flood is well regarded in the White House, but some Trump advisers would like to see him remain in his current position, focused on fighting off a potential subpoena from Mueller. Flood and Cipollone probably would work well together, according to people who know them.
“Emmet has tremendous respect for Pat’s ability as a lawyer, his judgment and his integrity,” said one person who has talked to Flood about Cipollone. This person and others spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Cipollone is not a household name but is well respected among Washington lawyers for his nuanced work on complex federal investigations and corporate defense. He worked at the Justice Department in the 1990s under then-Attorney General William P. Barr as Barr’s counsel for communications and special projects.
“He is a lawyer’s lawyer, with great breadth of experience, the utmost integrity and superb judgment,” Barr said in a statement.
“Pat Cipollone is the kind of lawyer that lawyers seek advice from,” said Bill Nettles, who served as U.S. attorney in South Carolina under President Barack Obama, adding that Cipollone would make “an extraordinary White House counsel.”
Cipollone’s firm was founded by a historic figure in the Washington bar — Jacob A. “Jake” Stein, who won a rare victory during Watergate, securing an acquittal for a lawyer for President Richard M. Nixon’s reelection committee whose co-defendants were convicted.
Cipollone is active in the Catholic community, having served on the board of the Catholic Information Center, a group that organizes events in Washington, as well as the Board of Visitors of the Columbus School of Law. He is listed as a part of the leadership team of the Foundation Stone Institute, a group that aims to strengthen ties between Catholics and Israelis. He was a founding member of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, according to his biography with that group.
He also has a close bond with conservative commentator and Trump ally Laura Ingraham. Ingraham has credited Cipollone, who once worked in an office across the street from her law firm, with guiding her as a “spiritual mentor” before she converted to Catholicism in 2002.
“I had all this success and still didn’t feel like I was right,” she told the National Catholic Register in a 2004 interview, saying that Cipollone advised her: “I think God’s reaching out to you. That’s why you’re feeling this way. And he leaves the flock to find the lost sheep, and maybe you’re lost and he’s trying to find you.’”