- Departure comes after Trump hired critic of Mueller probe
- Changes could signal more confrontational approach to Mueller
John Dowd resigned as Donald Trump’s attorney amid friction over the hiring of Joseph diGenova, a vocal critic of the Russia probe who has attacked the FBI and the Justice Department, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Dowd, who had been Trump’s lead lawyer against Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe for the past nine months, had been pushing Trump to cooperate with the investigation.
That stance appears to put him at odds with diGenova, who has said he believes Trump was framed by Justice Department officials on a political vendetta and is expected to advocate a more confrontational approach.
Later Thursday, when Trump was asked by reporters whether he still wants to testify to Mueller, he said, “Yes, I would like to.”
But the president has been impatient for Mueller’s investigation to come to a close, and the loss of Dowd may only drag out the process. Dowd had acted as the team’s point person in dealing with Mueller and has spent months carefully negotiating terms of an interview between Mueller and Trump.
Dowd was deeply versed in the facts of the case, including the tens of thousands of pages of documents that had been handed over to Mueller and the dozens of witnesses Mueller had interviewed.
DiGenova is coming in late to an effort that has been going on since the summer and faces a heavily staffed team of Justice Department investigators on the other side. He also could find himself at odds with Trump’s other lawyers, who have set a tone of cooperation with Mueller. DiGenova, for example, has suggested that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller’s work, to be removed and appointed as a judge.
Trump’s former lawyer Marc Kasowitz may also take on a bigger role, said two people familiar with the situation. When Mueller was named special counsel, Kasowitz recruited Dowd and two other veteran lawyers, Jay Sekulow and Ty Cobb, to take over daily responsibilities for the case because they had more experience dealing with large-scale Washington investigations.
But Kasowitz, a New York-based, white collar defense lawyer, has remained in Trump’s orbit as someone Trump trusts and has continued to act as a sounding board. Now, with Trump’s lead lawyer gone, Kasowitz may be needed to help piece back together the legal team, said another person.
It’s unusual for a client to have such an abrupt change so far into a case, said Patrick Cotter, a former U.S. prosecutor. The move suggests the president “is flailing around trying to find some lawyer who has a magic recipe to win the war."
Cotter, who now heads the white collar criminal defense practice at the law firm Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale, P.C. in Chicago, said it could slow down Trump’s defense. "When you bring in a new general the new general always has his own plan to win the war," he said.
Until recently, Dowd and Cobb have been instrumental in persuading Trump to back off personal attacks on Mueller, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified describing private discussions. But Trump’s frustration has been growing and he attacked Mueller publicly last weekend for the first time.
Since becoming Trump’s primary outside lawyer last summer, Dowd has bristled at attempts to diminish his authority, according to a person familiar with the matter. At one point last summer, when Trump’s advisers discussed top-tier Washington lawyers who could be added to the president’s legal team, Dowd groused that he didn’t want to end up being the caboose on the train, the person said.
Dowd recently expressed his desire for Mueller to wrap things up. “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 said in a March 17 statement.
In announcing his departure Thursday, Dowd said, “I love the president and wish him well.”
Sekulow said the legal team will continue its work defending the president.
“We will continue our ongoing representation of the president and our cooperation with the Office of Special Counsel," he said in a statement.
It is unclear what the departure will mean for Cobb, Trump’s lawyer inside the White House. Cobb, who has known Dowd for years, has advocated cooperating with the investigation as the quickest way to end it and has pushed back against any attacks on Mueller.
Cobb couldn’t be reached for comment. The White House has denied reports Trump wants to fire Cobb.
Dowd and Cobb were originally recruited with full awareness of the long history they share with Mueller. Cobb has had a friendly working relationship with Mueller for more than three decades, and Dowd shares a common bond over their time as prosecutors and as Marines who served in Vietnam.
Early in his career, Dowd worked at the Justice Department where he focused on racketeering, corruption and tax-evasion cases.
Dowd comes from a family of Marines and has stayed involved in the Corps, providing pro bono legal work to Marines. He is known for his combative style, talking in military terms when discussing a case and viewing himself as at war, ferociously battling his opponents.