Longtime D.C. Lawyer Is White House's Next Top Counsel

The White House named Neil Eggleston its new top lawyer. He'll have to muster his legal and political skills to deal with a divided Congress and multiple investigations of the Obama's administration.

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President Obama is getting a new lawyer. Longtime Washington attorney Neil Eggleston will be the next White House counsel. The news comes just in time for midterm elections that could deliver the Senate to Republicans and launch a new wave of oversight investigations.

NPR's Carrie Johnson reports Eggleston will have to muster all of his legal and political skills.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Pick any Washington scandal over the last 30 years and odds are, Neil Eggleston's been there. Sometimes he's the one asking the questions, like when he worked for Congress investigating the Reagan-era arms-for-hostage scandal known as Iran Contra.

Here, he's got Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger on the hot seat, and he's walking him back years to start at square one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

NEIL EGGLESTON: Mr. Secretary, the first thing that I would like to talk to you about is the draft NSDD - National Security Decision Directive - which took place in the summer of 1984.

JOHNSON: Other times, Eggleston is the guy standing in the shadows, advising clients like former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who was caught on federal wiretaps during the investigation of then Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Emanuel managed to escape the fallout from the case, which sent the governor to prison. Emanuel is now mayor of Chicago.

And then there's the time Neil Eggleston was on the hot seat himself during the Clinton administration. That's when he helped first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton try to deal with legal entanglements from a failed real estate investment known as Whitewater. Eggleston got called over to Capitol Hill to testify about missing legal records. He showed a flair for the forceful response in that hearing after this question from interrogator Richard Ben-Veniste.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE: Was there any discussion about removing or destroying or obliterating, or otherwise making unavailable, any files that were believed to be in existence?

EGGLESTON: Absolutely not. There was absolutely no discussion at this meeting of anybody destroying any files.

JOHNSON: Longtime friend Robert Luskin says all those experiences will come into play when Eggleston joins this White House.

ROBERT LUSKIN: I think he has the confidence to be able to get by on his skill and his judgment - and doesn't have to substitute a lot of affect for what he lacks in ability, which makes him an incredibly effective advocate.

JOHNSON: And, Luskin says, Eggleston is one of the few people he'd call if he ever got in trouble; partly, Luskin says, because of Eggleston's demeanor.

LUSKIN: You know, honestly, there are very few high-profile lawyers in this town that don't arouse really strong, conflicting opinions. For the most part, you name a name and there will be a constituency who will say oh, he's an impossible jerk. And nobody says that about Neil.

JOHNSON: Eggleston replaces Kathryn Ruemmler, who returns to private practice after nearly three years on the job.

Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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