W. Neil Eggleston of Kirkland & Ellis.
W. Neil Eggleston of Kirkland & Ellis. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ.)

W. Neil Eggleston, a white-collar defender in Washington, is the leading contender to replace White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler when she steps down, according to five Washington attorneys following the selection process who spoke on background about an administration personnel decision.

The lawyers familiar with the selection process stressed that nothing is certain until the president announces his selection. Two other prominent lawyers—Thomas Perrelli and Ronald Klain—have been talked about as contenders for the post, they said.

The White House said in December that Ruemmler, a former Latham & Watkins partner, would remain at the post until the spring. Ruemmler intends to return to private practice in New York.

Eggleston didn’t return messages seeking comment and a White House official declined to comment for this story about the president’s decision-making and the timing of Ruemmler’s departure.

A number of matters on Ruemmler’s plate could delay her departure, present a challenge for the next White House counsel or change who Obama ultimately selects, the lawyers said. They include Russia’s annexation of Crimea and, on the domestic front, the continuing debate about the scope and propriety of government surveillance programs. Obama on Tuesday, for instance, said he has received a new plan from intelligence agencies regarding the storage of telephone data.

Perrelli, who served three years as the third-in-command at the U.S. Department of Justice under Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., declined to comment. Klain, a former chief of staff for vice presidents Joseph Biden and Al Gore, also declined to comment.

Perrelli played a lead role in negotiating significant Justice Department settlements, including the $3.4 billion deal to resolve the Native American trust case Cobell v. Salazar. He also negotiated the $20 billion BP PLC trust fund created to pay victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In 2012, Perrelli returned to Jenner & Block, where he runs the government controversies and public policy litigation group.

Klain is president of Case Holdings and general counsel of Revolution LLC, an investment strategy firm. He served as chief of staff or staff director for Attorney General Janet Reno, the Senate Democratic Leadership Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to his Revolution biography.

Eggleston focuses on white-collar defense and internal investigations at Kirkland. At the White House, he would bring an extensive background in congressional investigations. He joined the firm in 2012 from Debevoise & Plimpton.

During the past 20 years, Eggleston has handled cases with ties to the White House. He represented former Obama White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel during the criminal prosecution of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Eggleston represented the Office of the President in the Monica Lewinsky investigation and secretaries of labor and transportation and U.S. senators in ethics inquiries. In the Lewinsky matter, Eggleston represented President Clinton on privilege issues.

Between 1993 and 1994, Eggleston was a White House lawyer under Clinton. In that role, he worked with Susan Davies, who joined Kirkland in 2011 as a litigation partner after serving as deputy White House counsel under Obama, according to a Kirkland announcement. In the White House, Davies oversaw the judicial nomination process.

William McLucas, chairman of the securities practice at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, described Eggleston as measured and straightforward. “He’s got the temperament, the judgment and the experience you need for a job like that,” McLucas said.

“He’s smart, he’s very, very tough—he’s a formidable adversary—but he’s just an extraordinarily decent and capable guy,” McLucas said. “He’s the rare kind of opponent who can be an extraordinarily zealous opponent but always a gentleman.”

F. Joseph Warin, chairman of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s litigation department in Washington, said Eggleston “has exquisite judgment honed by decades of rich, complex experiences across a broad spectrum of legal and public policy issues. He has a keen moral compass which informs every decision.”

Ruemmler, the third White House counsel to serve in the Obama White House, was among the youngest lawyers ever to take the job when she succeeded Robert Bauer in 2011. Bauer returned then to Perkins Coie. Gregory Craig, now a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, was the president’s first top in-house attorney.

Ruemmler’s work at the White House included a focus on the judicial nominations fight on Capitol Hill. Last fall, Ruemmler spoke out in support of Obama’s picks for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, saying the president would not “just sit idly by.” Republicans for months blocked votes on the D.C. Circuit nominees, who were confirmed after the U.S. Senate changed its filibuster rules.

Ruemmler hasn’t announced where she’s heading after leaving the White House.

Contact Todd Ruger at truger@alm.com. On Twitter: @ToddRuger.