Last week, when John Dowd called for the Department of Justice to shut down Robert Mueller’s special counsel probe, Dowd told the media that he was speaking on behalf of his client, Donald Trump. He shortly thereafter “clarified” that he was speaking for himself and not Trump, leaving everyone confused over what Dowd intended with that incendiary demand. That walkback was not enough to forestall a week’s worth of handwringing over the impending constitutional crisis.
Well, Dowd won’t be confused any longer over whom he speaks for:
John Dowd, a personal attorney to President Trump, resigned his post Thursday amid a shakeup in the president’s legal team as Trump has sought more firepower to deal with the special counsel’s Russia investigation.
The resignation came Thursday, according to three people familiar with the decision. Dowd declined to comment.
Dowd’s departure was a largely mutual decision made after the president lost confidence in his ability to handle special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s investigation and Dowd became frustrated with Trump’s recent efforts to bring on new attorneys, they said.
The Trump legal team wants the public face of this change to be as friendly as possible:
"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." – Jay Sekulow, Counsel to the President tells @kwelkernbc
— NBC Politics (@NBCPolitics) March 22, 2018
That doesn’t exactly square with a report of Trump losing confidence in Dowd, but it’s probably true in the sense that it’s business rather than personal. Attorneys for clients being investigated by the Department of Justice are supposed to know better than to openly antagonize investigators, even if their clients sometimes do not. Dowd, whether he intended to do so or not, created a political headache for the White House and Trump’s legal team.
Given Trump’s own public declarations on this, which do fall short of personal criticism of Mueller and calls for his termination, it’s tough to see that as a firing offense, though. Perhaps it’s a signal that Trump wants to remain cooperative as long as possible with Mueller’s team, even while grumbling about the necessity on Twitter. We keep reading stories about Trump’s desire to have an interview with Mueller and/or his team, and although it’s impossible to understand why, keeping Dowd on board after his remarks last week might have complicated that process. Jettisoning Dowd certainly looks like a signal of cooperation.
On the other hand, hiring Joe DiGenova muddies that signal somewhat, though, doesn’t it? DiGenova has publicly argued what Dowd declared last week, only he did so before Trump became his client. Perhaps DiGenova exercises better discretion as a member of the team.