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Politics & Government

How All Of President Trump's Legal Teams Interact

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The president's lawyers - that is a phrase we have grown accustomed to saying and hearing these last several months. There are a lot of president's lawyers, and there's been a lot of news about them this week. Some work for the White House. Some work for the president directly, representing him in relation to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia and the 2016 election.

Well, here to help us walk through President Trump's tangle of lawyers is Bob Bauer, who served as White House counsel to President Obama. Bob Bauer, welcome.

BOB BAUER: Thank you.

KELLY: Start by laying out the distinction between a lawyer who works for the president and a lawyer who works for the White House. How fine a line is that?

BAUER: It can be a fine line in some applications. But the general principle is that the White House counsel and other government lawyers represent the president in an official capacity only. They're taxpayer-funded counsel who represent the institution, not the individual.

So then the president, when facing as he does with the Mueller investigation, personal legal issues, has to have his own personal counsel. There has to be some communication between the two because as we know, Mr. Mueller's investigations involve requests for testimony and documents from government officials. That was a function apparently served by Mr. Cobb until his recently announced retirement.

KELLY: That would be Ty Cobb, who is actually leaving the White House at the end of May.

BAUER: That's correct. He's retired from the tangle. And that is not an unusual function to be performed. It has to be performed. But there's otherwise a very clear line between these institutional representations and a personal representation.

KELLY: So Rudy Giuliani, one of the more recent lawyers to join President Trump's team, certainly the one who seems to be making the most headlines this week - who exactly does he work for? Where exactly in this picture does he fit in?

BAUER: So Mr. Giuliani apparently is a senior member. He's been appointed to a senior leadership role on the president's personal legal team. So for that reason, he would be paid by the president. He would not have office space in the White House. He's a personal representative only.

KELLY: How common is it for a lawyer who is protecting the office of the president, who is protecting the White House versus a lawyer who is defending the president in personal legal tangles - for them to come into conflict?

BAUER: Well, that's an excellent question. It's the reason why the president has to be careful not to have conversations with government lawyers that he should have only with his personal lawyers. So if in a fit of frustration, the president discloses confidential information to a government lawyer, it is settled law that the president cannot assert the privilege with respect to that particular conversation. The government lawyer has an obligation to the public, not to the president.

KELLY: This leads me to ask you about Michael Cohen, another of the president's lawyers who's been making a lot of headlines of late. We keep identifying him on air as the president's longtime personal attorney. He would fit into this as a lawyer - what? - working outside the White House, funded from the president's own pocket.

BAUER: Well, he'd be funded by the president's own pocket. It's not clear that he's representing - and for a variety of reasons, he really couldn't be representing - the president in his personal legal issues with the Mueller investigation. But you raise an important point. There have also been reports that even outside these formal legal teams, the president takes counsel wherever he can get it. So that complicates the picture also.

KELLY: I think you just teed up my next question, which is, is it unusual for a president to have quite this many lawyers?

BAUER: Well, not so much to have this many lawyers but to have them rotating in and out in this way and managed in this fashion. I mean, I think it's fair to say that this is very unconventional. I suspect most lawyers would tell you it's extremely self-defeating. But his tendency to second-guess his lawyers publicly, to make apparently unfiltered commentary about the case without consulting lawyers probably explains as well why it is that the president has had some difficulty recruiting onto his legal team some of the lawyers he's been interested in having help him.

KELLY: That is Bob Bauer. He served as White House counsel back during the Obama administration. Bob Bauer, thanks very much.

BAUER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.