The Washington Post

Obama names veteran Washington lawyer as White House counsel


President Barack Obama is naming W. Neil Eggleston, a veteran of president Bill Clinton’s White House as his new top lawyer, replacing long-time counsel Kathryn Ruemmler who is leaving after three years in the job. (AP/AP)

President Obama has named W. Neil Eggleston, a veteran Washington lawyer who has worked in both the public and private sectors, as White House counsel.

Eggleston, 60, will replace outgoing counsel Kathryn Ruemmler.

A partner in the Washington and New York offices of Kirkland & Ellis, Eggleston is a practiced hand in Washington political and legal circles. A white-collar defense lawyer, he represented former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel during former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich’s federal corruption trial and, in private practice, worked for the White House during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

“Neil brings extraordinary expertise, credentials, and experience, to our team. He has a passion for public service, is renowned for his conscientiousness and foresight, and I look forward to working closely with him in the coming years,” Obama said in a statement.

Eggleston will have to guide the administration through its tense relationship with Congress, and administration officials said he was chosen in part because of his experience in dealing with how the executive branch interacts with the legislative one.

“You need to be capable of wearing probably half a dozen different hats, and he’s exactly the type of person you want,” said William R. McLucas, a partner at WilmerHale and former director of enforcement for the Security and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement. “His intellectual capacity is enormous, but his temperament and his bearing and his reasonableness will just really serve the president quite well.”

Eggleston served as associate counsel to President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1994 and was deputy counsel to the House select committee to investigate covert arms transactions with Iran from 1987 to 1988, during the Iran-contra hearings. Eggleston was a law clerk for Chief Justice Warren E. Burger.

Eggleston was in the White House during the Whitewater hearings and later testified about documents that outlined the Small Business Administration’s criminal investigation of an Arkansas judge after he returned to private practice.

“The president made a brilliant choice,” said Sara Fagen, the White House director of political affairs under President George W. Bush. Eggleston represented Fagen when Senate Democrats investigated the White House. “Neil is likable, smart and always one step ahead of those around him. He will know how to strike the right tone with congressional Republicans while still fiercely protecting the president.”

Ruemmler, who is going into private practice in New York, has been trying to leave the administration for months, but Obama persuaded her to stay on until the spring.

She prioritized the nomination of judges, and she got help from a change in Senate rules eliminating filibusters for most judicial nominees. She also advised Obama that he could make recess appointments during a Senate vacation, a decision that an appeals court later struck down. It is now before the Supreme Court.

Katie Zezima is a national political correspondent covering the 2016 presidential election. She previously served as a White House correspondent for The Post.

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