President TrumpDonald TrumpNorth Korea conducts potential 6th missile test in a month Kemp leading Perdue in Georgia gubernatorial primary: poll US ranked 27th least corrupt country in the world MORE’s lead personal attorney handling the investigation into Russian meddling abruptly resigned on Thursday.
John Dowd, a prominent white-collar attorney who joined Trump’s legal team last summer, will step down after breaking with the president on key elements surrounding the probe, including whether Trump should sit for an interview with Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Senate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG MORE.
“I love the President and I wish him well,” Dowd said in a written statement to The Hill.
Dowd’s exit comes as the president seeks to shake up his legal team amid frustrations within the White House over Mueller’s probe, which has cast a cloud over the administration for more than a year now.
This week, Trump added Joseph diGenova, a former U.S. attorney who has been highly critical of the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ), to his outside legal team. With Dowd gone, Trump’s outside legal team handling the Russia matter will be led, at least in the interim, by diGenova and Jay Sekulow.
"John Dowd is a friend and has been a valuable member of our legal team,” Sekulow said in a statement to The Hill. “We will continue our ongoing representation of the president and our cooperation with the office of the special counsel."
Trump extended an offer to prominent Washington attorney Theodore Olson earlier this week. Olsen declined, but the president could still be looking to bolster his roster of outside attorneys following Dowd's exit.
Dowd sent Washington into a frenzy over the weekend when he released a statement calling for an end to the special counsel probe, signaling a more aggressive posture by Trump’s team toward the investigation.
Dowd publicly pressured Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinWashington still needs more transparency House Judiciary to probe DOJ's seizure of data from lawmakers, journalists The Hill's Morning Report - Biden-Putin meeting to dominate the week MORE to “bring an end to the alleged Russia collusion investigation” that he said had been “manufactured” by former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyHillary 2024? Given the competition, she may be the Dems' best hope Trump draws attention with admission he 'fired Comey' Countering the ongoing Republican delusion MORE and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeAndrew McCabe's settlement with the Department of Justice is a signal to John Durham Trump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Jan. 6 panel flexes its muscle MORE, who Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsPress: For Trump endorsement: The more sordid, the better Those predicting Facebook's demise are blowing smoke If bitcoin is 'digital gold,' it should be taxed like gold MORE fired last week.
That statement came ahead of a blistering string of tweets from Trump, in which he attacked Mueller by name for the first time. Trump accused Mueller of stocking his special counsel team with “hardened Democrats” and called the investigation a “witch hunt” that is rife with “massive conflicts of interest.”
Those remarks ignited speculation over whether Trump was preparing to fire Mueller.
The White House insists that there have been no discussions about that. But at a briefing this week, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders vented frustration with the probe.
Sanders blasted GOP lawmakers, like Rep. Trey GowdyTrey GowdyTrey Gowdy sets goal of avoiding ideological echo chamber with Fox News show Fox News signs Trey Gowdy, Dan Bongino for new shows Pompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy MORE (R-S.C.), who have said that Trump’s attacks on Mueller make it look like he has something to hide.
“To pretend like going through this absurd process over a year would not bring frustration seems a little ridiculous,” Sanders said.
“I don't think any individual, including members of Congress, would like it if they had been accused of taking their seat in Congress by doing something nefarious when they hadn't, particularly if it went on for more than a year into their time in office," she said.
But Sanders said that firing Mueller “would not be the most productive step forward.”
The White House position has long been that it will cooperate with the special counsel in hopes of bringing the investigation to a speedy conclusion.
But outside of the White House, Trump’s legal team has been more aggressive.
DiGenova has fiercely defended Trump in conservative media while attacking the FBI and DOJ. He has described Comey as the “dirtiest cop in America.”
Sekulow has been a similarly vocal attack dog for the president, decrying alleged anti-Trump bias at the FBI and DOJ and demanding a second special counsel investigation in appearances on Fox News’s “Hannity” and on his own radio show.
Dowd had cut a lower profile among Trump’s outside personal attorneys and reportedly broke with the president over whether to sit for an interview with Mueller.
When Trump announced to reporters earlier this year that he was eager to speak under oath to the special counsel, Dowd sought to throw cold water on idea.
His departure comes as Trump’s in-house legal team, led by Ty Cobb, is negotiating the parameters of a possible meeting between Trump and Mueller.
There are concerns among some of Trump’s allies that the president would be at risk of making a false statement to investigators in a freewheeling conversation. White House lawyers are seeking to limit the scope of Mueller’s questions and potentially provide written, rather than verbal, answers on some matters.
Cobb has been trying to reassure the president that the investigation will be over soon.
Since last fall, Cobb has predicted that the investigation would end by Thanksgiving, Christmas or the New Year. Cobb’s team has been in a holding pattern, believing it has turned over everything Mueller has requested.
But media reports indicate that the probe has expanded to include Trump’s business empire, the business dealings of his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerDonald Trump slams Jan. 6 panel after Ivanka Trump interview request: 'They'll go after children' Kushner investment firm raises more than B: report Trump: Netanyahu 'never wanted peace' with Palestinians MORE, and overseas meetings between the president’s supporters that took place after the election.
That has generated concern at the White House about the scope and length of the investigation.
-Updated 12:26 p.m.