‘Nothing is final’ when it comes to replacing McGahn

President Donald Trump said Thursday he is “very excited about the person” who will succeed Don McGahn as White House counsel, a day after he announced McGahn will be leaving his post.

But inside the West Wing on Thursday morning, there was no indication that Trump has made a final decision on picking McGahn’s replacement, a senior White House official told CNN.

“Nothing is final,” the official said.

A top contender for the position has emerged: Emmet Flood, the lawyer handling the White House’s response to the special counsel’s investigation.

“Emmet is somebody that everybody really likes and respects. But that’s not a final, final deal,” the official said. “No one would be surprised if it was him.”

A source familiar with McGahn’s thinking said Flood is also his preferred successor, a move the source said Trump’s lead outside attorney Rudy Giuliani also favors.

Flood represented President Bill Clinton during his impeachment proceedings and tapping him as White House counsel could signal that Trump is taking seriously the increasing likelihood that Democrats will regain control of the House of Representatives and could move to impeach him.

Trump on Wednesday announced that McGahn will be leaving the White House in the fall after Judge Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed as a Supreme Court justice, as the White House hopes he will be. That timeline will give Trump time to settle on a successor to McGahn.

McGahn has long been planning his exit from the White House and was expected to leave after Kavanaugh’s confirmation. But the White House counsel was nonetheless caught off guard by Trump’s tweet announcing his departure, a source familiar with McGahn’s thinking said.

McGahn was surprised by the tweet and did not speak specifically to the President beforehand about it. The source said that while many knew that McGahn was going to leave, he had not specified when.

After the tweet, the source advised McGahn to leave after the Kavanaugh confirmation, perhaps as early as two weeks afterward.

McGahn’s departure will mark the end to the tumult that has defined his relationship with Trump for more than a year.

Trump soured on McGahn after the White House counsel failed to convince Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. The relationship then took another turn for the worse when McGahn refused to direct the Justice Department to fire special counsel Robert Mueller and instead threatened to resign.

Trump on Thursday insisted that “the Rigged Russia Witch Hunt did not come into play, even a little bit, with respect to my decision on Don McGahn!”

That decision, a White House official said, was to announce McGahn’s departure, not to fire him.

If Democrats retake the House, McGahn’s successor would be taking over a White House counsel’s office preparing for a likely siege of investigations and potentially impeachment proceedings.

Those investigations, a former George W. Bush administration official said, can quickly “consume everything,” straining the resources of even a fully staffed White House counsel’s office, which the Trump White House is not.

Flood’s experience defending Clinton during the impeachment proceedings and his work in Bush’s White House when it was handling federal investigations make him uniquely equipped to handle the incoming from a Democratic-led House. But if he is tapped as White House counsel, he would also need to build the counsel’s office back up amid a series of top departures.

Flood’s pedigree as a top Washington attorney could also motivate young lawyers to come work at the White House.

Any lawyer who considers joining the administration would do so with some degree of trepidation given the grueling schedule and the potential for getting caught up in an ongoing federal investigation.

Fielding the response to the special counsel’s probe and possibly a deluge of investigations from Capitol Hill will be top of mind for McGahn’s successor, but the White House counsel will also be expected to keep McGahn’s momentum on judicial nominations moving forward.

One congressional source worried about whether McGahn’s successor will be able to keep up the extraordinary pace of McGahn’s work to reshape federal appellate courts nationwide.