WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President Donald Trump added a top impeachment attorney to his legal team on Wednesday (May 2) after the lead White House lawyer for the Russia meddling investigation stepped down.
The recruitment of Emmet Flood, who represented president Bill Clinton when he was impeached by the House of Representatives and tried by the Senate in 1998-99, signalled that the White House is going on the offensive as it girds for a tough battle over presidential powers and possibly obstruction allegations with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who leads the Russia probe.
"Emmet Flood will be joining the White House Staff to represent the president and the administration against the Russia witch hunt," Trump's Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.
Flood joined the team as Ty Cobb, who had urged the president to be more conciliatory with Mueller, stepped down from his role managing White House relations with the year-old investigation.
Both Cobb and John Dowd, who quit the president's legal team in March, were reportedly displeased that Trump was not following their advice in the case, especially with his repeated attacks on Mueller.
The changes come as the White House is under increasing pressure from the probe.
Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election, as well as possible obstruction of justice by Trump.
The investigation has already yielded 19 indictments, including of three top campaign aides and advisers. If obstruction or other charges are ultimately levelled against the president, it could possibly lead to his impeachment.
Belying their concerns, Trump and Republicans in Congress have threatened to remove Mueller and other senior Justice officials, a move that top members of Congress have also warned could result in Trump's impeachment.
Turmoil in legal team
Trump's legal team has been deeply divided on strategy since last year, especially on the issue of whether Trump should accept to be interviewed by Mueller, or claim his executive privilege to refuse.
At least in March, Trump was reportedly inclined to an interview, believing it would lead to a quicker end to the probe. Dowd vehemently opposed it.
Now, however, the situation appears to have shifted. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that last month, Mueller threatened to subpoena Trump to appear before a grand jury if he declined to be interviewed.
Trump meanwhile has stepped up his counterattack.
"There was no Collusion (it is a Hoax) and there is no Obstruction of Justice (that is a setup & trap).... Witch Hunt!" Trump tweeted on Wednesday.
Flood has experience in the highest of high-profile white collar cases. He represented Bill Clinton when he was impeached by the House of Representatives but avoided conviction in a Senate trial for lying in the so-called Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Flood also defended vice president Dick Cheney in a civil suit over leaking the identity of Valerie Plame, a covert CIA operative. That lawsuit was ultimately dismissed.
While Flood could signal a more combative approach with Mueller, Trump's team remained open to the idea of an interview.
Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who joined Trump's legal team two weeks ago, told The Washington Post Wednesday that he could support a relatively short interview between Mueller and the president, with a limited number of questions.
"Some people have talked about a possible 12-hour interview. That's not going to happen, I'll tell you that. It would be, max, two to three hours around a narrow set of questions," Giuliani said.