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July 8, 2014

Attorney returns to White House under legal siege

WASHINGTON — Lawyer Neil Eggleston could be looking toward a comfortable retirement on the generous nest egg he built through high-stakes representation of prominent Washington officials and corporate clients. Instead, he’s returning to a grueling post at a White House under siege on multiple legal fronts.

The 61-year-old Eggleston has come on as chief counsel as President Barack Obama faces congressional investigations, pushback from the Supreme Court, and House Speaker John Boehner’s announcement last month that he intends to sue the president over his stepped-up use of executive orders.

Among the myriad sensitive matters requiring Eggleston’s expertise, Boehner’s suit is an unexpected challenge he must prepare for without knowing exactly the legal arguments it will make. In his first interview since coming to the White House this spring, Eggleston predicted the matter will be quickly dismissed by a judge for a lack of legal standing.

“As I used to tell clients in private practice, anybody can sue anybody over anything,” Eggleston said from his West Wing corner office. “The fact that he’s going to say that he’s going to bring some lawsuit is not going to affect what the president is going to do.”

Eggleston’s guidance of the legal limits of Obama’s executive actions draws from experience working across all three branches of government early in his career. He clerked for Chief Justice Warren Burger, a conservative chosen by President Richard Nixon, and later worked for the House Select Committee investigating the Iran-Contra affair. He was in President Bill Clinton’s counsel’s office during oversight hearings into the Whitewater real estate transactions and later helped fight subpoenas of presidential aides in the Monica Lewinsky investigation.

In private practice, he represented white-collar clients, including the outside directors at Enron after the company’s financial collapse. His political clients included Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as a witness in the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. He also represented former Cabinet secretaries Federico Pena and Alexis Herman when they were facing investigations that did not result in charges.

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