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Trump's Top Personal Lawyer John Dowd Resigns. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired March 22, 2018 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[11:31:42] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news about a shake-up in the president's personal legal team that is tasked with dealing with the special counsel's investigation into Russian meddling and whether the Trump campaign was involved in any of it. We learned that the lead lawyer on the president's team, John Dowd, has resigned. This is huge news.

I want to bring in CNN's Shimon Prokupecz for this.

They have been trying, it seemed, to put a good face on this, even John Dowd himself here in the last couple of days as there had been additions to the legal team. Did that mean that some people were on their way out? Did that mean Dowd would resign? We know now that is very much true, Shimon. This is huge. This is the top lawyer on the president's team leaving.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: That's right. Not only is this the top lawyer on the president's team, but this is the person who the Trump lawyers have given every indication to us, has been communicating with the Mueller team, who has this previous relationship with Mueller. And to us, to those of us covering this, are not surprised by this move, certainly. We expect there to be other resignations, other shake-ups within the legal team. Some of the members of the legal team took issue with the president's recent hire of the recent lawyer that was brought on to the team. You know, John Dowd this weekend sort of caused a stir after he made some comments to "The Daily Beast," then walked them back, basically taking issue with the Mueller investigation. And John Dowd has really been sort of seen as a guy communicating with the president, trying to keep things calm, trying to keep the president sort of in line and this is -- though this is not, not a surprise to many of us, it certainly is going to create some rifts within the team that is ongoing. There are problems on this legal team. We have said so much, we have reported on a lot of that various views on how the president should be handling the investigation, views on whether the president should meet with Bob Mueller, whether he should be interviewed, questioned by investigators from Bob Mueller's team.

But certainly, you know, we know also that the president has been out there shopping, looking for other people to join his legal team. Some people hesitant to join the legal team for a variety of reasons. The president is also just not a very easy client, not someone who listens to his lawyers. We have seen that based off of some of the tweets, some of the things he has said publicly to reporters and press conferences, and gaggles. So all of that certainly creates a lot of problems when you have attorneys who are trying to convey a certain message, try to constrain their clients from saying things that could potentially hurt themselves.

KEILAR: And that is -- that's clearly the frustration that John Dowd had, right? He is someone who seems to adhere to a sort of common- sense approach legally. It had been reported that he did not believe that the president should actually sit down with the special counsel. He was clearly worried that this wasn't going to turn out in the right way for the president, although the president has promised that he is going to sit down with the special counsel.

Shimon, when you look at that, you look at someone like John Dowd is out, and then you look at couple of new legal additions, one of them being Joe DiGenova, who trafficked in conspiracy theory about the FBI and targeting President Trump, what does that tell you about the direction of the legal team?

[11:35:10] PROKUPECZ: Well, it tells us that, you know, maybe the president wants someone who is willing to more say the things he wants to be said. I think John Dowd and Ty Cobb, the other attorney here, their approach has been to try to keep things peaceful, try to go at it through negotiations. Even Ty Cobb and John Dowd had differing opinions on whether, at least from our reporting on whether -- how much the president should cooperate, on whether the president should sit down with the special counsel. Look, you usually do get these kinds of situations on legal teams. When you have so many different lawyers involved in a case like this, you're going to have varying opinions. But it is very rare that we see it play out like this so publicly. There hasn't been so much intrigue into what is going on with these lawyers, what they're thinking, how they're handling things. But the key thing here, Brianna, is they have an unbelievable task in trying to manage a client, the president, who just can't be managed.

KEILAR: Very good point.

Shimon, thank you very much.

If you can stand by for us as we dissect this breaking news that the top lawyer on the president's personal legal team to deal with the Mueller probe is now out.

Nia-Malika Henderson and Michael Zeldin with me to talk about the politics and legal implications of this respectfully.

Michael, this maybe wasn't unexpected, even though we have been hearing pushback, even from John Dowd himself. No, no, everything is copacetic.

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KEILAR: OK, well, it's not. We saw legal additions to the team. We have seen this before, when it was the Trump campaign, that you with see new additions come in, nothing to see here, and the next thing you knew the campaign manager was gone. Maybe not entirely a surprise this happened. How significant it this to you?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is going to be clear how significant it is when we keep our eyes on Ty Cobb. If Ty Cobb goes, it means the president is shifting his strategy. Because Ty Cobb and John Dowd, though they differed a little bit, were: cooperation, get this over with, there is no "there" there, and let's put this behind us. Joe DiGenova brings a whole different mindset to this. If Joe now represents the new theory: we're going to fight, we may not submit ourselves to an interview, this is a witch-hunt, and Dowd and then Ty Cobb are out, then there is a whole new paradigm.

KEILAR: Also, I want to -- we just have gotten a statement in from Jay Sekulow, also a lawyer on the president's team: "John Dowd is a friend and has been a valuable member of our legal team. We'll continue our ongoing representation of the president and our cooperation with the office of special counsel."

The question is what kind of representation, right? And I wonder, for even people who are in the president's team, in his corner, but maybe worry a little bit about some of his freewheeling style when it comes to dealing with taking on Robert Mueller lately, we have seen him really go after the special counsel on Twitter, which was something that was new. I imagine there are people even very much in the president's camp who are looking at this shift and they are worried, Nia.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, you would have to be because the president has certainly changed his tactic. He's hired this new lawyer. It looked like they wanted to hire another lawyer, Ted Olson, a very well-respected lawyer. You probably know him better than I would and can speak to him more. But he didn't want to joint team. It seems like this is a president forgoing this sort of nonaggression pact he had with Mueller, naming him consistently over Twitter the last couple of days. We know the investigation is heating up. We know the promises of -- that Trump's lawyers made to him, it would be wrapped up soon. That's out the window at this point. At this point the president is in a different place. You imagine he wants to bring people around him who mirror his pugilistic style. He looked on TV, saw Joe DiGenova talking about this conspiracy theory and wanted him as part of his team. That could be the new tenor of his approach to this legal matter.

KEILAR: Aside from the legal approach, I think of his economic team, right, where Gary Cohn is out. Gary Cohn was more of a moderating influence on the president's trade views. And the folks who aren't, kind of have become a little more influential. Donald Trump talked about wanting to clean house when it comes to his cabinet and have the team that he really wants. It seems in a way that he's steering not just on the legal matters, but economically, and just in general towards let Trump be Trump.

HENDERSON: Yes. This whole idea of Trump unleashed. And we have seen it as you laid out, any number of areas, in terms of foreign policy, in terms of trade, in terms of -- and Gary Cohn leaving. And the other folks that are more like Trump are rising through the ranks. So, you know, it is obviously having implications, too, on what is very, very serious, this legal matter. And he can have his P.R. political strategy in terms of wanting to bring these folks in. I don't know how well that Joe's strategy of saying that it is all a conspiracy theory would actually work legally.

[11:40:19] KEILAR: I have to get a break in real quick. We'll revisit this, of course.

Big breaking news that we're following at this point in time, the lead lawyer on the president's personal legal team dedicated to the special counsel investigation of Russian meddling is now gone. John Dowd has resigned. We'll be back with more on this breaking news in a moment.

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[11:45:00] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: Breaking news, we're reporting a huge change to the president's legal team that is dealing with the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling and looking at whether the Trump campaign was involved in any way with this. John Dowd, the top lawyer on that group of lawyers working for the president, is now out. And this comes after pushback over the last few days, including from Dowd himself, about whether there were going to be changes to the legal team. And about whether the president was unhappy with the direction of his legal team. This is speaking volumes here. Dowd has resigned. It is very clear that this is going to shake things up. And maybe even change the direction of the president's legal team's pursuit in how they're responding and reacting to the special counsel.

I want to bring in right now CNN's chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

You spoke with John Dowd.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: John Dowd said to me, "I love the president and wish him well." I think this is really reflective of the fact that the Dowd strategy, which has been to hand everything over to Mueller, deal with Mueller in a very professional way, he and Ty Cobb said to the president, hold back, mind your manners, do not attack Mueller. That shifted dramatically, I believe, after they got a list of sort of the buckets of questions that the president was going to be asked that we reported on last night.

The legal team is in complete disarray. John Dowd -- they brought in Joe DiGenova, who is very aggressive, who believes that there is a conspiracy within the FBI and the Justice Department to get this president. And he is more aggressive. And I believe, and I know from my own reporting and Pamela Brown's reporting, that he did not want to be co-counsel with Joe DiGenova. And that his strategy is a strategy that the president no longer believes in, and so he's going back to Plan A and Plan A is to attack.

KEILAR: So it is very much that John Dowd was fed up with this. But it is also mutual in a way that his approach was not being appreciated.

BORGER: The president felt, from our reporting, that the strategy -- he had listened to the lawyers and the lawyers said hold back, hold back, hold back, this is going to be over. Remember, we were hearing -- over by Thanksgiving, over by Christmas, over in January. That did not happen. So the president then sees -- remember, they're in the middle of negotiating the president's potential testimony. Mueller hands over to them or talks to them about the kinds of stuff he wants, and the president gets upset, and says this isn't working, this is going to continue for quite some time, my attorneys have not led me in the -- in the right direction.

I should also say that Ty Cobb, the White House special counsel, agrees with Dowd on that strategy, and there is great question about whether Ty Cobb stays. Ty Cobb has indicated that he would like to stay through the president's testimony, if the president does testify. But the president, again, is -- made it clear privately that he doesn't like the strategy they were pursuing, so the next person to leave could be Ty Cobb. We just don't know at this point.

KEILAR: As we know that the top lawyer on the team, John Dowd, is out. Ty Cobb's -- let's say his status is unknown or hanging in the balance here and we're waiting to see. Tell us about some of the things that we had learned just recently that the special counsel was going to want to look into.

BORGER: Let me just say one more thing about the lawyers. There is the Marc Kasowitz team. Let's talk about that.

KEILAR: Sure.

BORGER: Which is the Kasowitz team has been very involved and then he kind of stepped back, you'll recall, months ago. And Kasowitz was always of the thought, let's be more aggressive. So Kasowitz never stepped back totally, but there is a question of whether they've become more involved now that you see Dowd leaving, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if that happened.

And as to the topics of what they want to talk about, they want to talk about, you know, the Flynn firing and the Comey firing, obviously. Those are the bulk of the issues. The other issues are the meeting at Trump Tower, Don Jr's meeting at Trump tower with the Russians, and what occurred on Air Force One when the White House issued a very misleading statement about what occurred at the Trump Tower meeting. And so those are pretty big buckets. And what the lawyers did was sort of extrapolated and then -- among themselves, kind of made a list of dozens of questions or potential areas that the president might be asked. Those are questions that could lead you to talk about obstruction or potentially collusion. So you see the president getting more and more agitated here, thinking, you know what, my lawyers were wrong, they led me into a lull that was false, and John Dowd was to blame for that, he believes, in a large way. Even though, remember, last weekend, it was Dowd who tweeted, and now we know at the behest of the president, that I hope Mueller, you know, ends this case.

[11:50:39] KEILAR: Gloria Borger, who just spoke with John Dowd, the top lawyer on the president's legal team who has now resigned.

We are going to continue covering this breaking news after a quick break.

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[11:55:16] KEILAR: Breaking news. The top lawyer on the president's personal legal team is out, has resigned. John Dowd is gone.

And I want to bring back Shimon Prokupecz.

You have new details. What can you tell us?

PROKUPECZ: Brianna, I want to make the point, touching off on what Gloria Borger has said to you before the break. It seems that something has happened since we reported on this face-to-face meeting between the Mueller team and some of Trump's lawyers, and where these questions came up about some of what they've been looking at. It seems, since then, something had certainly shifted here with the strategy on behalf of the president. Also, you have to keep in mind, if things were coming to an end, like some of Trump's lawyers have been saying, why the need for lawyers to now start leaving? That's a pretty significant thing here.

KEILAR: We know you'll keep digging with your sources.

Shimon Prokupecz, thank you.

We'll have more breaking news after a quick break.

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