President Donald Trump’s new White House counsel has pleased his boss by finding legal justifications for some of his worst instincts, instead of tapping the brakes like his predecessor.
Pat Cipollone took over for Don McGahn six months ago, and he’s turned his office into a central hub in the White House and ingratiated himself with the president, who fondly calls him “Mr. Attorney,” reported Politico.
The 53-year-old former corporate lawyer — part of the so-called “Catholic mafia” that’s gained influence in the Trump administration — is godfather to one of Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s children, and she recruited Cipollone to help Trump prepare for a 2016 debate, and the two “just clicked,” according to one of the attorney’s friends.
Cipollone’s personal chemistry with the president, and his willingness to green-light some of Trump’s dubious policies, has given him newfound power.
Trump critics — both outside and within the administration — are concerned that the White House counsel has abdicated his role in restraining an impulsive president with little understanding or respect for constitutional and political norms.
“One of the best ways to act as a restraint is to raise legal concerns or to play up the economic or political consequences of a decision,” said a former White House official, who said McGahn sometimes angered Trump by pointing out those consequences.
Cipollone has mapped out legal paths for the president to follow in declaring a national emergency at the southern border, imposing tariffs on Mexico or restricting the use of fetal tissue in medical research, Politico reported.
McGahn, an election lawyer, was mostly concerned with getting conservative judges — and his friend Brett Kavanaugh — confirmed, but Cippolone has beefed up staff in his office, to about 40 now from a low of around 25, and has essentially treated Trump as his client, according to critics.
“With this president, it’s not about what the org chart looks like, it’s about how close you are to the president,” said a White House official. “But Don didn’t care about that. For Don it was, ‘I’m going to get my judges done and I’m going to make no friends in the process. I don’t care whether the president thinks I am his guy.’”
Cippolone and his office’s attempts to fight off congressional investigations have drawn condemnation from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other top Democrats, although some legal experts say those efforts aren’t particularly unusual.
“White House counsels have generally followed a fairly hostile approach to congressional inquiries touching on White House staff,” said Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University.
Trump’s personal lawyers, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, have adopted Cippolone’s argument that lawmakers have no “legitimate legislative purpose” to subpoena documents they have demanded to investigate the president and his family.
A district court judge, however, shot down that claim last month in a lawsuit filed by Trump’s personal legal team against the president’s longtime accounting firm, which was ordered to comply with congressional subpoenas.