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Clinton White House lawyer named top Obama counsel

Monday - 4/21/2014, 11:16pm  ET

This undated handout photo provided by Kirkland & Ellis LLP shows Neil Eggleston. President Barack Obama is naming Eggleston, a veteran of president Bill Clinton’s White House as his new top lawyer, replacing long-time counsel Kathryn Ruemmler who is leaving after three years in the job. (AP Photo/Kirkland & Ellis LLP)

JIM KUHNHENN
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is naming a prominent white collar defense attorney and veteran of the Clinton White House as his new top lawyer. Neil Eggleston will replace Obama's long-time counsel, Kathryn Ruemmler, who is leaving after three years in the job.

Eggleston gained distinction as a White House lawyer during congressional investigations into President Bill Clinton's Whitewater real estate transactions and the independent counsel probe into whether Clinton lied about his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. He also served as deputy chief counsel of the House special committee that investigated the Iran-Contra arms and money affair that ensnarled President Ronald Reagan.

Obama praised Eggleston's "extraordinary expertise, credentials and experience."

"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," Obama said Monday in a statement.

Obama had warm words for Ruemmler, who has planned to leave the White House for several months, calling her a valued friend and trusted adviser who had an "uncanny ability to see around the corners that nobody else in the room anticipates."

Eggleston is a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, one of the nation's biggest corporate law firms, where he advises corporations on issues ranging from corporate governance to internal investigations to allegations of fraud. He has represented individuals and companies facing criminal, congressional or regulatory investigations.

In choosing Eggleston, Obama is picking a lawyer familiar with the type of congressional confrontations the White House is likely to face in the last years of Obama's presidency. Obama has already faced aggressive inquiries from congressional investigators in the Republican-controlled House, from the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, to accusations that the Internal Revenue Service improperly scrutinized conservative nonprofit groups. A Republican takeover of the Senate in this year's midterm elections would likely increase such inquiries.

"He brings a rare talent of combining good legal advice, good legal creativity a good grasp of legal issues with a sensitivity to the politics of the situation," said former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., who co-chaired the committee that investigated Iran-Contra in the late 1980s.

Hamilton noted that as two-term presidents enter their final years they "accumulate a lot of opposition and a lot of adversaries."

"The White House counsel's office becomes a very busy place in defending the president," and Eggleston will be well suited for that role, he said.

Eggleston's private sector work has also focused on helping companies navigate regulations imposed by Obama's own administration. When he joined Kirkland & Ellis in 2012, Jeffrey Hammes, chairman of Kirkland's global management executive committee, said Eggleston was joining the firms "at a time when increased government scrutiny and regulation, and the successes of our white collar practice, continue to increase demand for our experienced white collar and securities enforcement attorneys."

In 2009, Eggleston represented then-Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel during the prosecution of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on charges of corruption, including seeking to exchange an appointment to Obama's old Senate seat for campaign cash or a job. He also represented former Clinton administration Transportation Secretary Federico Pena in an investigation by the Justice Department and former Clinton Labor Secretary Alexis Herman in an independent counsel probe. Both inquiries did not result in charges.

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