Hiring of new Trump lawyer Emmet Flood signals upcoming battle with Mueller

New lawyer joins Trump legal team

WASHINGTON -- President Trump shook up the legal team that's dealing with the Russia investigation on Wednesday. Ty Cobb is being replaced by an attorney who helped defend President Clinton in the darkest days of his administration.

The arrival of Emmet Flood is a signal that Mr. Trump is girding for a battle with special counsel Robert Mueller. To underscore the point, the official White House statement said Flood would represent the president in "the Russia witch hunt."

Cobb counseled cooperation with Mueller and arranged document transfers and interviews with top White House officials that were completed by January. Ever since, negotiations with Mueller's investigators have focused on a potential interview with Mr. Trump. 

Trump Russia Probe
This image provided by Williams & Connolly LLP shows attorney Emmet Flood in Washington on Dec. 8, 2015. Marissa Rauch / AP

Looming in the background was a threat that Mueller could subpoena the president if talks broke down. Flood's arrival adds a lawyer experienced with high-stakes showdowns with special prosecutors. 

During a January chat with reporters, the president said he was willing to be interviewed under oath.

"I'm looking forward to forward to it actually," he said. "There's been no collusion whatsoever."

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, also on the president's legal team, told the Washington Post any interview would be "two to three hours around a narrow set of questions."

A list of more than 40 questions, drafted by Trump's legal team, surfaced this week, and focused on potential obstruction of justice tied to Mueller's Russia investigation. On Twitter Wednesday morning, the president said "there is no Obstruction of Justice."

"You know Giuliani can poke this lion as much as he wants, but you have to be careful about what you ask for," said Jonathan Turley, an impeachment expert and law professor at George Washington University.

"There are questions on that list that are sleepers that look like innocuous housekeeping questions," Turley said. "But they could be the most lethal of all of the questions."

Neither side wants a subpoena fight over an interview. Mueller's team knows that means a legal fight probably to the Supreme Court. The president's legal team knows that would extend the investigation for months and make the president look afraid. So the incentives for compromise are there. The biggest change, Cobb's departure removes the strongest voice the president heard on a daily basis not to fire Mueller.