Lead Lawyer On Trump's Team Handling Special Counsel Russia Probe Resigns

Mar 22, 2018
Originally published on March 22, 2018 7:47 pm

Updated at 4:20 p.m. ET

John Dowd, the veteran attorney leading President Trump's outside legal team, has tendered his resignation, marking a shakeup just as Trump had turned his Twitter ire on special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation.

Dowd declined to explain why he was leaving the team that is helping the president deal with the Russia investigation. But a source familiar with Dowd's thinking says he was tired and frustrated, in a draining job with not enough resources and with a client who was not taking his advice.

When reached by phone all Dowd would say is, "I love the president and wish him well."

Trump's legal team is in the midst of ongoing discussions with Mueller over a possible interview with President Trump. Dowd recently described them as "productive and constructive." Speaking at a White House event Thursday after news of the resignation broke, the president told reporters he would like to speak to investigators as part of the Mueller probe.

Over the weekend, however, Dowd suggested that the Mueller investigation be shut down. At first, he said he was speaking as the president's counsel; then he walked it back to say he was speaking for himself.

"Just end it on the merits in light of recent revelations," Dowd said in an email.

Those recent revelations?

"I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe's boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier," Dowd emailed.

Hours later, President Trump began tweeting his own criticisms of the investigation, using Mueller's name for the first time:

Dowd's resignation also comes just days after the president added a new lawyer to the team, Joe diGenova, who has been outspoken in his attacks on the Justice Department Russia investigation.

"There was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton and — if she didn't win the election — to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime," diGenova said on Fox News in January.

Dowd was reportedly blindsided by the hire and according to one source expressed concerns to Trump that diGenova had conflicts of interest because his small law firm also represents former Trump campaign advisor Sam Clovis and former Trump legal team spokesman Mark Corallo, both of who have reportedly been interviewed as part of Mueller's investigation.

Dowd had only just been brought onto Trump's legal team last June to add some Washington experience to Trump's defense. Here's the thumbnail of Dowd's career we wrote up back then:

John Dowd is best known as the author of the Dowd Report, which led to Pete Rose's lifetime ban from baseball for gambling on the game.

"I'm very, very happy and very proud of the commissioner of baseball for protecting the game," Dowd told NPR two years ago, when Major League Baseball denied Rose's request to be reinstated. "In this day and age, protecting the integrity of anything is a big deal."

In 2011, Dowd represented Raj Rajaratnam in a major insider-trading case. Rajaratnam was convicted on all counts and walking out of the courtroom Dowd offered some choice words to a CNBC reporter, flipping off the camera.

Attorney John Dowd (left), who now is part of the legal team working for Trump, leaves U.S. District Court with his client Raj Rajaratnam after jury deliberations about an insider trading case in New York in 2011.

But more to the point, Dowd is a seasoned Washington hand who represented Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the Keating Five scandal (McCain was cleared) and helped a retired Air Force colonel get immunity to testify in the Iran Contra scandal.

That's experience that would be quite valuable if the president is in fact being investigated for obstruction of justice by the special counsel.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

John Dowd quit today. He was the top lawyer representing President Trump in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. This is a big resignation, and it comes at a time when the president has become publicly much more critical of the investigation. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now to talk us through this. Hey, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hello.

CHANG: So why did John Dowd quit?

KEITH: Well, he wouldn't tell me. But when I reached him by phone, he said quote, "I love the president and wish him well."

(LAUGHTER)

KEITH: Then I started working the phones more. And a source familiar with Dowd's thinking tells me that Dowd was tired and frustrated. He was in a draining job with not enough resources and a client who wasn't always taking his advice. And Dowd was reportedly blindsided earlier this week when President Trump brought on another lawyer. That is a man named Joe diGenova. He's a former federal prosecutor. This source tells me that Dowd had expressed concerns to the president about diGenova having a conflict of interest because he has this very small law firm, and that firm represents former Trump campaign adviser Sam Clovis and former Trump legal team spokesman Mark Corallo, both of whom have reportedly been interviewed as part of the Mueller investigation.

CHANG: Does the addition of diGenova and the resignation of Dowd - are those signs that Trump is trying a new strategy with respect to this investigation?

KEITH: It's not totally clear, but here are a couple of data points for you. Dowd has generally been in the camp of lawyers who pushed for maximum cooperation with the Mueller investigation. At one point he even sent me this document that had a list of all the files they'd turned over and all the people who had voluntarily spoken to Mueller's team.

CHANG: Bragging about their cooperativeness.

KEITH: Exactly. And so there's that. Now, at the same time, Dowd just this past weekend had said that he hoped that the investigation was shut down. So there's a little - you know, there's a little confusion about exactly where Dowd was. But then over the weekend, President Trump began tweeting criticisms of Mueller, and this was new because up until that point, he hadn't done that directly by name.

CHANG: Right.

KEITH: He had called it a witch hunt, but he didn't call it Robert Mueller's witch hunt, and that was the change. And then on Monday, President Trump brought on diGenova, who is definitely more in line with the idea of criticizing and attacking the investigation. Here is something that diGenova said on Fox News back in January.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOSEPH DIGENOVA: There was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton and, if she didn't win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime.

KEITH: So one legal observer that I checked in with today who knows all the actors here said it sure looks like, at least from a PR perspective, that Trump and his lawyers are moving in a direction of amping up their attacks on the investigation, the FBI, the Justice Department - this even as the White House continues to say that the president is fully cooperating.

CHANG: All right, so meanwhile, Mueller's investigation grinds on. Do you have any sense of what's next for the president as it relates to that?

KEITH: Yeah, so Trump's legal team had been in ongoing discussions with Mueller's team about a possible interview or other form of testimony from the president. Dowd had described those conversations as productive and constructive. And in the past, the president has said he wants to talk to Mueller. Today he said it again. So that's all we know.

CHANG: We'll see. All right, that's NPR's Tamara Keith. Thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.