Obama taps veteran of Clinton investigations for chief counsel

Getty Images

President Obama on Monday said he has selected W. Neil Eggleston to become chief counsel, adding the expertise of a veteran attorney who was involved in some of the most heated legal battles of the Clinton administration.

Eggleston, a white-collar defender who is now at Kirkland & Ellis, will replace departing White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler in mid-May.

“Neil brings extraordinary expertise, credentials, and experience, to our team,” Obama said in a statement. “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.”

Eggleston worked as a White House lawyer under Clinton, handling politically explosive issues like the Whitewater controversy, and later represented the former president during the investigation into the Monica Lewinsky affair.

He also represented Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, then the White House chief of staff, during the prosecution of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), who was convicted of attempting to solicit bribes for appointment to Obama’s Senate seat.

Eggleston will have large shoes to fill in the West Wing, where Ruemmler has played a central role in a series of administrative policy initiatives and controversies.

“Kathy has become one of my most trusted advisers,” Obama said. “I deeply value her smarts, her wit, her impeccable judgment — but most importantly her uncanny ability to see around the corners that nobody else in the room anticipates. I will forever be grateful for her service to the country, will continue to seek her counsel, and most of all, I am proud to call her a close friend.”

When an IRS audit found that the tax collection agency had been targeting conservative political groups, it was Ruemmler’s decision not to tell the president about the findings, in an attempt to shield Obama from charges he interfered in the investigation.

She also advised the president to resist congressional demands to release draft talking points following last year’s attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, infuriating congressional Republicans.

In 2011, Ruemmler also provoked congressional ire when she sent a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee flatly stating there was no evidence the White House helped failed green energy company Solyndra win a government loan on behalf of a campaign donor.

Ruemmler also advised the president against disclosing details of the administration’s drone program, including the targeted killing of American citizen and al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki. At the time, Ruemmler cautioned that disclosures would weaken the government’s position in pending legislation by civil rights groups and journalists seeking more information about drone strikes.

President Obama did eventually disclose al-Awlaki’s killing, as well as the legal justification and procedures for drone strikes.

More recently, Ruemmler played a role in attempting to mediate a dispute between the CIA and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who has accused the spy agency of removing documents from a computer used by congressional investigators examining the CIA’s torture practices.

And Ruemmler’s office earlier this month contacted Samsung to protest the cellphone manufacturer’s promotional stunt in which Red Sox slugger David Ortiz took a “selfie” with the president.

— This story was updated at 5:23 p.m.

Tags Dianne Feinstein Kathryn Ruemmler President Obama W. Neil Eggleston White House Counsel
See all Hill.TV See all Video