White House Counsel Don McGahn, prior to President Donald Trump announcing the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to be associate justice at the U.S. Supreme Court, in the East Room of the White House, on July 9, 2018. Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM.

President Donald Trump nearly named a replacement for outgoing White House Counsel Don McGahn this weekend, but stopped short of identifying Pat Cipollone as his top choice.

Cipollone is a litigator at Stein Mitchell Cipollone Beato & Missner and a former partner at Kirkland & Ellis in Washington.

“Pat is a great guy. I don’t want to say it, but he’s a great guy,” Trump told reporters Oct. 13 en route to Kentucky when asked whether Cipollone was atop the list to replace McGahn. “He’s very talented, and he’s a very good man. But I don’t want to say yet.”

How did Cipollone climb up the ranks of potential replacements for McGahn? Trump reportedly interviewed Cipollone in August, following Cipollone’s work with Trump’s outside legal team during the summer. Cipollone is reportedly close to Emmet Flood, the former Williams & Connolly partner who left the firm for Trump’s team in May.

Before entering Trump’s orbit, Cipollone was part of a legal team that helped actor Johnny Depp win a dispute against a former lawyer. The “Pirates of the Caribbean” star is no fan of Trump, having raised the prospect of assassinating the president last year, and portraying Trump in an unflattering mockumentary in 2016.

Cipollone spent more than a decade at Kirkland & Ellis, where he worked as a partner before leaving to become a named partner at Stein Mitchell in Washington, D.C. His eponymous firm’s website touts Cipollone’s “substantial expertise in defamation counseling and litigation on behalf of corporations, organizations and public figures, including prepublication negotiations and/or litigation with major media organizations.”

Such skills could come in handy at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as Trump reportedly barters with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team about what questions to answer, and routinely scraps with the press over what the president terms “fake news.”

Cipollone is also a well-connected Catholic conservative. He sits on the board of directors for the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C., alongside Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society and adviser to Trump on the U.S. Supreme Court and the judiciary. The information center aims to “integrate their [Catholic] faith into their personal, professional, and civic lives” as they live and work in the nation’s capital. Fox News personality Laura Ingraham, a former law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, has credited Cipollone for helping inspire her decision to join the Catholic Church.

Precisely when Cipollone could formally join the White House remains a mystery. McGahn remains White House counsel, though Trump announced his looming departure over Twitter earlier this year. On Oct. 13, Trump told reporters that he would name his new White House counsel publicly “over a short period of time.”

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