John Dowd. (Photo: John Disney/ALM)
John Dowd is either the perfect choice to represent President Donald Trump or a combustible addition to his criminal defense team, depending on whom you ask.
Dowd signed up last week to work with New York civil litigator Marc Kasowitz and lawyer and radio personality Jay Sekulow on Trump’s private legal team as he faces a criminal investigation into his campaign’s ties with Russia. Their representation and Trump’s reaction to the investigation thus far have been marked by fierce attacks of perceived opponents and curt denials.
Though he’s not himself a quintessential New York lawyer—the type who combines dealmaking instincts with sharp public statements and sharper elbows—Dowd fits that combative mold.
The 76-year-old former Marine Corps captain, who retired from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld’s partnership in 2015, has been a mainstay in the Washington white-collar bar for decades.
“I’ve observed him not suffering fools lightly. It’s just his general way,” said Richard Ben-Veniste, the Mayer Brown partner who led the Watergate special prosecutor’s task force.
The amplified personalities among Kasowitz, Sekulow and Dowd could clash—even with the president himself. But Kasowitz, because of his longtime representation of Trump, may retain the upper hand among the lawyers throughout the investigation.
“They finally have added someone who really knows white-collar law,” said Robert Bennett, the Hogan Lovells partner who’s known Dowd for decades. But, he added: “Will they listen to him and will they pay attention to his expertise?”
Bennett described Dowd as “hard-charging.”
Several other Washington lawyers on Monday pointed out Dowd’s history of confrontational advocacy. One lawyer who previously opposed him in a case called him a bully.
Some examples: Dowd engaged in an on-air shouting match on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio with Christopher Russo when the two discussed Dowd’s investigation of Major League Baseball icon Pete Rose, which led to the ballplayer’s permanent ban from baseball. Last year, the Rose matter devolved into the baseball player suing Dowd for defamation. Dowd had said on the radio that Rose had “ran young girls” to baseball spring training and accused him of statutory rape.
In another case between a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau official and a whistleblower, Dowd backed a move to prevent the whistleblower’s statements from being considered by a court.
After he was announced as part of Trump’s legal team Friday, former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara tweeted a link to an email Dowd once sent a Wall Street Journal reporter that said, among other things, “Preet is scared shitless he is going to lose this case so he feeds his whores at the WSJ.”
William Jeffress of Baker Botts, who’s been friends with Dowd for around 35 years, said he may not become the Sunday Show regular that Sekulow has for Trump—though he could embody the same aggressive approach to the case as Kasowitz and Trump himself.
“He shares that, but not in the way that he’s going to be grandstanding,” Jeffress said. “They haven’t added him because they needed somebody else to go on the talk shows.”
Politically, there’s no question Dowd has Republican bona fides, even if they trend toward the maverick wing of the party. He served as Sen. John McCain’s lawyer in the “Keating Five” scandal, in which McCain and others were investigated for ethics breaches.
Dowd then publicly split from supporting McCain in the 2008 presidential primary race, instead placing his donations and support behind Republican candidate Fred Thompson, the actor-turned-senator. At the time, he told The Washington Post that McCain’s campaign was not being well run and was over-managed.
Former House Rep. Michelle Bachmann secured $2,500 from Dowd in her Republican primary bid in 2012.
Mark Corallo, Kasowitz’s spokesman for the Trump representation, said the lawyers in New York knew Dowd previously. When asked why they hired him, Corallo described him as a “Washington legal legend.”
“His wisdom, experience and success both as a prosecutor and a defense attorney are unrivaled. When John Dowd speaks, everyone listens,” Corallo added.
Dowd declined to comment for this article, other than saying that “yes, indeed,” he was defending the president.
Since his retirement from Akin Gump, Dowd had planned to work part time out of his solo practice, John M. Dowd PLLC, and spend summers in Cape Cod.