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Trump Praises WH Counsel as ‘Fantastic’ After Privately Wondering If He Should Be Replaced


 Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, and Principal Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley listen during a Rose Garden event at the White House May 7, 2019 in Washington, DC. The first lady hosted the event to celebrate the anniversary of her Be Best initiative.

Given the circumstances, it seems there isn’t much more one could ask of White House counsel Pat Cipollone. And yet, President Donald Trump still had his doubts over the last few weeks as to whether Cipollone was the guy who should be defending him at an impeachment trial in the Senate.

Trump, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow, and Jared Kushner rubbished those doubts on Thursday, however, offering a vote of confidence in una voce. Bloomberg reported on both the private doubts and public buffet of support.

Trump called Cipollone a “fantastic” White House counsel who would likely be the lead attorney at a trial in the Senate. Conway said Cipollone would “definitely” be there to defend the president, and noted that Cipollone has “been with the president on this every step of the way in giving his views and advice.” Sekulow called Cipollone a “brilliant” attorney who gets the political landscape. Kushner called Cipollone an “excellent adviser to the president” amid an “endless stream of frivolous attacks.”

The president’s doubts about Cipollone can be traced to the belief that Cipollone isn’t “aggressive” enough and may not play well on TV. It is true that Cipollone does not comport himself like Michael Cohen or Rudy Giuliani in the public sphere, but Cipollone has aggressively executed the White House’s stonewall strategy via the pen.

Although not a “primary author” of the wild letter President Trump sent Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on the eve of the impeachment vote, Cipollone reportedly was involved in the drafting of the letter.

Cipollone has otherwise done the president’s bidding as the primary author of explicitly political letters. Cipollone wrote a letter in early October that some called a “middle finger to Congress.” In it, he decried the impeachment inquiry as “constitutionally illegitimate” and said the Executive branch could not be expected to participate in it. CNN legal analyst and impeachment expert Ross Garber noted at the time that the letter was “clearly written for the President’s base.”

The White House was not involved during the House Intelligence Committee phase of the impeachment inquiry, but the House Judiciary Committee offered the president and his lawyers the opportunity to participate. The White House declined twice — both times through Cipollone letters.

“House Democrats have wasted enough America’s time with this charade. You should end this inquiry now and not waste even more time with additional hearings. Adopting articles of impeachment would be a reckless abuse of power by House Democrats, and would constitute the most unjust, highly partisan, and unconstitutional attempt at impeachment in our Nation’s history,” Cipollone warned. “Whatever course you choose, as the President has recently stated: ‘if you are going to impeach me, do it now fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our Country can go back to business.’”

Cipollone has also been openly coordinating with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ahead of a Senate trial, in a manner that at least one constitutional law expert said was without precedent.

So while it may be true that Cipollone will fall short in the way of TV explosiveness, it seems the complete body of work here has the president and his top advisors saying: there are no plans to make a change and no any other candidates lined up.

[Image via Alex Wong/Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.