John Dowd, President Donald Trump’s lead lawyer for the special counsel investigation, resigned earlier today. According to The New York Times, which spoke with an individual briefed on the matter, Dowd had concluded that the president was ignoring his advice.
Dowd, who considered leaving his post several times since taking over as head of the president's legal team last summer, kept his statement to the press short and crisp.
I love the president,” Dowd told New York Times reporters in a telephone interview. “I wish him the best of luck. I think he has a really good case.”
Dowd's departure comes after a hectic last few days, during which the president attracted significant criticism for assailing special counsel Robert Mueller, who is spearheading the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Trump also had earlier announced his intention to sit down for an interview with Mueller and his team, despite Dowd's advice not to. (Dowd is just one member of an extensive legal team who, aware of the president's tendency to promote falsehoods, has cited concerns that he might perjure himself during an interview with the special counsel.)
Trump, for his part, is said to "be pleased" with Dowd's resignation as he had grown frustrated with him, particularly after Dowd, during an appearance on network television, called for an end to the Justice Department's investigation. Dowd claimed at the time that he was speaking on behalf of the president but later walked back his assertion. The president reacted to Dowd's recantation with anger. "I’m sitting here working on the president’s case right now,” Dowd said Monday, swatting away rumors that he was considering leaving after the president's outburst.
Nor is Dowd the only member of the legal team who has drawn the president's ire. Trump is said to be considering terminating longtime lawyer Ty Cobb, who has advocated for cooperating with Mueller and his associates. As the Times reports, the president "has discussed with close associates in recent days whether to fire Mr. Cobb, while reassuring Mr. Cobb that he had no plans to do so."
Unsurprisingly, Dowd's resignation sparked a social media firestorm, with some drawing comparisons to Leonard Garment, an attorney of former President Richard Nixon's who resigned amid the Watergate scandal. A Washington Post article dated December 7, 1974, notes that Garment "was one of the first aides to warn Nixon of the potential dangers of Watergate, but his advice went unheeded."
It's unclear who will take over as head of the president's legal counsel. Jay Sekulow, a longtime friend and attorney to Trump, is said to be the favorite to assume the role. In a statement, Sekulow referred to Dowd as "a friend":
John Dowd is a friend and has been a valuable member of our legal team. We will continue our ongoing representation of the president and our cooperation with the office of special counsel.
Earlier this week, Sekulow welcomed longtime Washington lawyer Joseph E. diGenova as the newest member of the president's legal counsel. Although DiGenova is, according to White House sources, not expected to take a lead role, his stance on the Russia probe is markedly more aggressive than Dowd's own: diGenova has pushed conspiracy theories on television that a secretive group of FBI and Justice Department officials concocted the Russia investigation to frame and take down the president.
Although Dowd had approached the special counsel's investigation with caution, his record was marred over his response to the guilty plea of Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who became the first Trump administration official to face charges in Mueller's investigation. Dowd apologized to the White House after he claimed to have authored a tweet suggesting that Trump knew Flynn lied to the FBI in January, reviving questions as to whether the president obstructed justice when he asked James Comey, the former FBI Director, to drop the investigation into Flynn's Russian dealings.
Earlier this week, Representative Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) admonished Dowd after he called for an end to the Justice Department's investigation.
“If you have an innocent client, Mr. Dowd, act like it,” Gowdy said. “The President’s attorney frankly does him a disservice when he says that.”
Gowdy was responding to criticism of Mueller that the president tweeted over the weekend.
“Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans? Another Dem recently added…does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!” the president wrote yesterday, in yet another attempt to discredit the Russia investigation.
Mueller’s investigation isn’t limited to possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, Gowdy noted, adding that the investigation is also examining Russian interference with the entire U.S. democratic process and the 2016 presidential election.
“If the allegation is collusion with the Russians, and there is no evidence of that, and you are innocent of that, act like it,” Gowdy said.
Gowdy, who is chairman of the House Oversight Committee and sits on the Intelligence and Judiciary committees, added later, “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you should want the investigation to be as fulsome and thorough as possible.”