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White House counsel Pat Cipollone and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Despite President Trump's lack of personal interest in the planning, the White House Counsel’s Office is now moving fast to prepare for the twin threats of Robert Mueller and the new Democratic House majority.

The big picture: These threats dwarf anything that any president has faced since Bill Clinton. There's a surge of internal action after a slow start: Planning for Democratic oversight only began in earnest at the senior level in November.

Much of the mid-level White House staff remains oblivious to what’s going on behind the scenes. But the new White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone, has impressed the officials he's dealt with and Republican legal eminences we have spoken to.

  • A senior White House official said Cipollone has added 17 attorneys since coming on board after the midterms.
  • That includes notable talent and experience — especially his deputies: Patrick Philbin, a former Comey staffer, and George W. Bush alumnus Mike Purpura.
  • Cipollone has already met with new House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings, Axios has learned. "It was brief; we’re going to meet again this week, or maybe some time next week," Cummings told Axios’ Alayna Treene.
  • A senior White House official confirmed the WashPost report of Cipollone's plan to assert the president’s executive privilege to "prevent President Trump’s confidential discussions with top advisers from being disclosed to House Democratic investigators and revealed in the special counsel's ... report."

White House lawyer Emmet Flood — who helped Clinton through impeachment proceedings, and faced Democratic investigators when he worked for George W. Bush — has been coaching some White House staff on what to expect and how to prepare, according to sources with direct knowledge.

  • Flood, who has told colleagues he plans to leave the White House when the Mueller probe ends, has briefed staff from legislative affairs, communications, the staff secretary’s office and other parts of the building, on what to expect from, and how to handle, congressional investigators.

While the new counsel has hired experienced lawyers from the George W. Bush era, Flood is the only lawyer on staff who — from his time with Bill Clinton — fully appreciates the scale and intensity of what's about to hit them.

  • In previously unreported conversations, a small senior staff group has been discussing oversight — including meetings between Cipollone and top communications and press officials.
  • The White House Counsel's Office has been meeting with general counsels from cabinet agencies to prepare for what's ahead, according to a senior administration official.
  • And Cipollone's team has "studied and closely reviewed past precedent of how previous administrations have handled [oversight]," the official said.

The official told Axios there's "aggressive lobbying" to convince Flood to stay on beyond Mueller.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

2 hours ago - World

U.S. will give Russians written response to NATO demands, Blinken says

Blinken and Lavrov shake hands in Geneva. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed after a meeting with his Russian counterpart on Friday that the U.S. will provide written answers to Russia's security demands next week.

Why it matters: Russia claims to be waiting for "concrete answers" to its demands that NATO rule out further expansion and roll back its presence in eastern Europe before deciding its next steps on Ukraine. But the U.S. and NATO have called those proposals "non-starters," and Friday's meeting offered no breakthroughs, so it's unclear how written answers might change the equation.

More surprises await scientists at Antarctica's "Doomsday Glacier"

Cliffs along the edge of the Thwaites Ice Shelf in West Antarctica. Photo: James Yungel/NASA

Researchers like David Holland, an atmospheric scientist at New York University, are in a race to understand the fate of a massive glacier in West Antarctica that has earned a disquieting nickname: "The Doomsday Glacier."

Why it matters: Studies show the Thwaites Glacier (its official name) could already be on an irreversible course to melt during the next several decades to centuries, freeing up enough inland ice to raise global sea levels by at least several feet.

Updated 4 hours ago - Health

The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Omicron's blitz around the world has underscored the need for a new arsenal of COVID vaccines and therapeutics, experts say — and that may require an effort akin to Operation Warp Speed 2.0.

Why it matters: The virus will continue to evolve, potentially in a way that further escapes vaccine protection, and the best way to prevent more global disruptions to everyday life is to have tools ready to combat whatever comes next.