White House beefs up legal team with 17 new attorneys to battle Democrats, Mueller

Such a strategy could quickly inflame tensions between Trump and congressional Democrats and could lead to lengthy legal battles.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone attends a meeting in the Oval Office
White House Counsel Pat CipolloneMichael Reynolds / EPA file

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By Allan Smith

The White House has beefed up its legal team in recent weeks, hiring 17 additional lawyers to help prevent President Donald Trump's discussions with top advisers from being obtained House Democrats or revealed to special counsel Robert Mueller, The Washington Post reported.

The White House plan is to assert Trump's executive privilege on both fronts. That strategy is being led by new White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, and aides said the goal is to preserve a legal protection that past presidents have invoked.

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But with Democrats planning to go as far as subpoenaing the administration for information, such a strategy could quickly inflame tensions between the two sides and may lead to lengthy legal battles.

Some Democrats have already pledged to subpoena a copy of Mueller's full report should the White House seek to to block any portions of it from being made public.

If the White House moves to use executive privilege to keep parts of the report private, the special counsel's rules allow for the attorney general to make a final determination on what can be shared with Congress and the public.

Next week, the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Trump's attorney general nominee, William Barr, gets underway. Barr had been critical of the Mueller probe — which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials — in a memo he authored and provided to the Justice Department last year.

Barr was specifically critical of Mueller probing Trump having possibly obstructed justice regarding the Russia investigation. As The Post reported, Democrats are concerned about the possibility of the White House invoking executive privilege to block portions of the Mueller report dealing with obstruction from being made public.

Though little is known about Mueller's report, what it will encompass, and how lengthy it will be, NBC News reported last month that it could be submitted as soon as February, legal sources said. However, unforeseen developments could lengthen the timeline.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. NBC has not independently confirmed the hiring of additional lawyers.