President Donald Trump speaks during a ceremonial swearing in for new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department, May 2, 2018, in Washington.
President Donald Trump speaks during a ceremonial swearing in for new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department, May 2, 2018, in Washington.

WHITE HOUSE - A lawyer who worked to unsuccessfully protect former U.S. President Bill Clinton from impeachment is expected to join the legal team of the current chief executive in the White House.

Emmet Flood, who also was the lead lawyer in the White House Counsel’s Office during George W. Bush’s second term, is to succeed Ty Cobb on President Donald Trump’s legal team.

“Emmet Flood will be joining the White House staff to represent the president and the administration against the Russia witch hunt. Ty Cobb, a friend of the president, who has done a terrific job, will be retiring at the end of the month,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

Cobb last week informed White House chief of staff John Kelly that he would be leaving, according to the press secretary.

The change of lawyers comes as the White House confronts a possible legal showdown with special counsel Robert Mueller, who might press for an interview with the president.

Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies on Capi
FILE - Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 13, 2013.

More aggressive approach

A White House consensus appears to have emerged in recent weeks that a more aggressive legal approach was needed to confront the Mueller inquiry.

Cobb was the key attorney interacting with the special counsel, who leads a team investigating whether Trump obstructed justice and sought to thwart the criminal probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Word of Cobb’s impending departure came just after Trump tweeted about a “rigged system” in Washington, assailing his Justice Department for withholding key documents Republican lawmakers want to investigate his opponents.

'Unwarranted and unwise'

A former U.S. attorney, Don Stern, says Trump certainly has the authority to fire Rosenstein, but “that would be unwarranted and unwise.”

Stern, now managing director of Corporate Monitoring and Consulting Services, tells VOA the president’s “repeated attacks on the credibility, professionalism and integrity of the Department of Justice undermines a very important institution in this country — that we adhere to the rule of law and that it should be applied fairly and equally.”

Stern adds that “while we don’t always reach that goal, it is disturbing to have the chief executive lead the charge against his own department and career attorneys. It may create long term damage to the department.”

FILE - A reporter raises her hands to ask a questi
FILE - A reporter raises her hands to ask a question of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, after he announced the office of special counsel Robert Mueller says a grand jury has charged 13 Russian nationals and several Russian entities, Feb. 16, 2018, in Washington.

Articles of impeachment

Conservative Republican lawmakers have drafted articles of impeachment against deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who is second-in-command at the Justice Department. He has refused to hand over some documents the lawmakers have sought.

Some observers contend the investigation by the Republican-controlled Congress is a way to divert attention from the Mueller investigation.

Rosenstein has been a frequent Trump target for a year, since he assumed oversight of the Mueller probe, after his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, removed himself from involvement with the Russia investigation because of his own contacts with Moscow’s ambassador to Washington during the 2016 campaign.

Rosenstein on Tuesday rebuffed calls from Republican lawmakers for his impeachment.

“I think they should understand by now that the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted,” he said. “We’re going to do what’s required by the rule of law, and any kind of threats that anybody makes are not going to affect the way we do our job.”

One conservative lawmaker, Congressman Mark Meadows of North Carolina, said Rosenstein’s “response to the draft articles of impeachment is reminiscent of our interactions with him over the past few months: a lot of rhetoric with little facts.”

U.S. news outlets have reported that at a tense meeting two months ago, Trump’s lawyers said the president had no obligation to answer prosecutors’ questions, with Mueller responding that he could subpoena Trump to appear before a grand jury. That could lead to a legal fight the U.S. Supreme Court would have to decide, although a basic American legal concept is that no one is above the law, including a president.

U.S. President Donald Trump waves after a campaign
U.S. President Donald Trump waves after a campaign rally in Washington Township, Michigan, April 28, 2018.

Flood’s hiring comes after Trump mentioned at a political rally in the state of Michigan on Saturday night the possibility of being impeached, which would lead to a Senate trial on whether to remove him from office, if Democrats retake control of the House following November’s midterm election.

Some of Trump’s lawyers have advised him against answering Mueller’s questions, fearing that Trump, often given to exaggerations and outright falsehoods, could be trapped by the questioning, as the president suggested in a Wednesday tweet.

A recent addition to Trump’s legal team, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, told The Washington Post on Wednesday that any such interview of the president by the special counsel’s team would be limited to “two to three hours around a limited set of questions.”

The New York Times on Tuesday published a list of 49 questions it said Mueller wants to ask Trump as part of the investigation. The newspaper reported that the list was compiled by the president’s lawyers based on questions that were read to them by special counsel investigators.

In another tweet Wednesday, Trump quoted one of his supporters, former federal prosecutor Joseph diGenova, as saying that U.S. presidents have the unlimited power to fire any official in the government if they want to do so.