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White House counsel Pat Cipollone (L) 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 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 I 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 me there's "aggressive lobbying" to convince Flood to stay on beyond Mueller.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
44 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's "overwhelming force" doctrine

President-elect Biden arrives to introduce his science team in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President-elect Biden has ordered up a shock-and-awe campaign for his first days in office to signal, as dramatically as possible, the radical shift coming to America and global affairs, his advisers tell us. 

The plan, Part 1 ... Biden, as detailed in a "First Ten Days" memo from incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, plans to unleash executive orders, federal powers and speeches to shift to a stark, national plan for "100 million shots" in three months.

Off the Rails

Episode 2: Barbarians at the Oval

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 2: Trump stops buying what his professional staff are telling him, and increasingly turns to radical voices telling him what he wants to hear. Read episode 1.

President Trump plunked down in an armchair in the White House residence, still dressed from his golf game — navy fleece, black pants, white MAGA cap. It was Saturday, Nov. 7. The networks had just called the election for Joe Biden.

Fringe right plots new attacks out of sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestic extremists are using obscure and private corners of the internet to plot new attacks ahead of Inauguration Day. Their plans are also hidden in plain sight, buried in podcasts and online video platforms.

Why it matters: Because law enforcement was caught flat-footed during last week's Capitol siege, researchers and intelligence agencies are paying more attention to online threats that could turn into real-world violence.

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