As Congress prepared to impeach former president Bill Clinton in 1998, the president’s lawyers had a question: How exactly would this little-used, high-stakes process work?
To find an answer, they turned to Emmet T. Flood, a serious, low-key lawyer on Clinton’s personal legal team, who dove deeply into Congress’s historical records to figure out exactly how an impeachment and trial of a president would unfold.
Flood’s legal colleagues said the unusual inside knowledge he learned working the Clinton case, combined with a career spent navigating complex legal matters that also involve tricky political calculations, have made him a natural choice to join President Trump’s legal team.
The White House announced Tuesday that Flood will replace Ty Cobb in the White House Counsel’s Office, serving as a point person for the White House’s response to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“Emmet’s a terrific lawyer — smart, savvy and ethical — and one who lived through a special counsel’s investigation of a president,” said George Conway, a lawyer who advised the legal team of Paula Jones, who had accused Clinton of sexual harassment during the Clinton investigation.
Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives but spared conviction and removal from office by the Senate.
People who know Flood say he is a thorough, straight-arrow attorney who bears a deep skepticism of overreach by the government and its prosecutors.
“He feels strongly that this whole investigation is essentially an attempt to undermine an election,” said a Flood confidant, one of a number of his colleagues who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the Russia investigation. “He doesn’t like the idea of an independent counsel.”
Flood, 61, brings to the White House an impeccable résumé in the conservative legal community and a top-notch reputation among Republican and Democratic colleagues.
“He’s a very, very good lawyer,” said David Kendall, who has served as Bill and Hillary Clinton’s chief lawyer since the 1990s.
“He’s bright as can be,” said Richard Cullen, a former U.S. attorney and Republican Virginia attorney general who now represents Vice President Pence in the Russia matter. “A lot of times, you get bright guys who are not practical. He’s both.”
Flood declined to comment.
After brief stints as a high school teacher and philosophy professor (he holds a PhD in philosophy), Flood graduated from Yale Law School and clerked for a conservative legal hero, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
He has spent most of his professional career at the white shoe Washington firm Williams & Connolly, where he served on Clinton’s legal team but also represented former vice president Richard B. Cheney in a civil lawsuit filed by former CIA officer Valerie Plame, whose identity was provided to the media by a Cheney aide.
But he left the firm for two years in 2007 so he could serve as special counsel to President George W. Bush, where he handled Bush’s response to investigations of his midterm firing of seven U.S. attorneys. After Bush left office, Flood returned to Williams & Connolly.
In the Bush White House, Flood convened a daily 10:30 a.m. meeting in his office to provide updates on ongoing congressional requests for documents and interviews, said Tony Fratto, who served in the communications office at the time.
“He’s a rules follower, and he’s unflappable,” Fratto said. “I’ve never seen him angry or excited. He’s a very steady hand. Maybe that will be a calming influence in this White House.”
Fratto said Flood had thought deeply on the prerogatives and privileges of the president, experience that Trump could find useful.
Flood had first discussed leaving his firm and joining the White House Counsel’s Office nearly a year ago, in the weeks after Mueller was appointed and Trump was beefing up his legal team to respond. He interviewed then for the job he has now accepted, a position on the White House staff in which his primary responsibility will be to defend the institution of the presidency, rather than Trump personally.
He was a favorite of White House Counsel Donald McGahn, a longtime Flood friend, but he initially declined the post after clashing with Marc Kasowitz, the combative New York lawyer who at the time served as Trump’s chief personal lawyer.
Kasowitz, however, was soon replaced by John Dowd, who brought on Cobb to serve as the White House’s point person on the Mueller probe. But Dowd resigned in March, prompting a total overhaul of Trump’s team that has now led to Flood’s hiring.
Friends say Flood also advises clients to curb public comments about ongoing investigations that prosecutors could exploit.
The advice could spark clashes with Trump, who comments on the Russia investigation on Twitter on a nearly daily basis.
In 2013, that advice caused conflict between Flood and another high-profile client, the then-governor of Virginia, Robert F. McDonnell, who at the time was under federal investigation for accepting gifts and loans from a wealthy campaign supporter.
People familiar with that case have said Flood advised McDonnell to stay quiet about the case but the governor felt he needed to speak publicly to improve his political position.
Ultimately, Flood quit, in part as a result of the dispute. McDonnell was indicted and convicted on public corruption charges, but his conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court.
“Emmet has little patience for clients who misinterpret legal jeopardy for public relations jeopardy,” said a lawyer who has worked closely with Flood.
Still, a person familiar with the matter said Flood has been spotted at the White House several times over the past several months, discussing with members of Trump’s team the possibility of joining.
“He’s a big boy, and he’s going in with eyes wide open,” the person said.
Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.