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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

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. sounds alarm on Ukraine

Conscripts line up at a Russian railway station yesterday before departing for Army service. Photo: Sergei Malgavko/TASS via Getty Images

The Biden administration is "deeply concerned" by new intelligence — detailed for Axios and other outlets — showing Russia stepping up preparations to invade Ukraine as soon as early 2022.

Why it matters: Most of this was known from public sources and satellite imagery, but the administration is sending a stronger signal by releasing specific details from the intelligence community.

CNN fires Chris Cuomo

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for CNN

CNN said Saturday evening it has fired one of its star anchors, Chris Cuomo, following new revelations from a legal review made by the company into Cuomo's involvement in the management of his brother's sexual harassment scandal.

Why it matters: Saturday's firing speaks to how much pressure CNN was under by employees and critics to address Cuomo's behavior.

Updated 8 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Electric car prices could go up before they come down

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The secret to affordable electric vehicles is cheaper batteries. But after years of falling prices, battery costs are now headed in the wrong direction.

Why it matters: Costlier batteries could drive up the price of electric vehicles — threatening the auto industry's transition away from fossil fuels, and, in turn, society's fight against climate change.

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