AILSA CHANG, HOST:
John Dowd quit today. He was the top lawyer representing President Trump in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. This is a big resignation, and it comes at a time when the president has become publicly much more critical of the investigation. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now to talk us through this. Hey, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hello.
CHANG: So why did John Dowd quit?
KEITH: Well, he wouldn't tell me. But when I reached him by phone, he said quote, "I love the president and wish him well."
KEITH: Then I started working the phones more. And a source familiar with Dowd's thinking tells me that Dowd was tired and frustrated. He was in a draining job with not enough resources and a client who wasn't always taking his advice. And Dowd was reportedly blindsided earlier this week when President Trump brought on another lawyer. That is a man named Joe diGenova. He's a former federal prosecutor. This source tells me that Dowd had expressed concerns to the president about diGenova having a conflict of interest because he has this very small law firm, and that firm represents former Trump campaign adviser Sam Clovis and former Trump legal team spokesman Mark Corallo, both of whom have reportedly been interviewed as part of the Mueller investigation.
CHANG: Does the addition of diGenova and the resignation of Dowd - are those signs that Trump is trying a new strategy with respect to this investigation?
KEITH: It's not totally clear, but here are a couple of data points for you. Dowd has generally been in the camp of lawyers who pushed for maximum cooperation with the Mueller investigation. At one point he even sent me this document that had a list of all the files they'd turned over and all the people who had voluntarily spoken to Mueller's team.
CHANG: Bragging about their cooperativeness.
KEITH: Exactly. And so there's that. Now, at the same time, Dowd just this past weekend had said that he hoped that the investigation was shut down. So there's a little - you know, there's a little confusion about exactly where Dowd was. But then over the weekend, President Trump began tweeting criticisms of Mueller, and this was new because up until that point, he hadn't done that directly by name.
KEITH: He had called it a witch hunt, but he didn't call it Robert Mueller's witch hunt, and that was the change. And then on Monday, President Trump brought on diGenova, who is definitely more in line with the idea of criticizing and attacking the investigation. Here is something that diGenova said on Fox News back in January.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOSEPH DIGENOVA: There was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton and, if she didn't win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime.
KEITH: So one legal observer that I checked in with today who knows all the actors here said it sure looks like, at least from a PR perspective, that Trump and his lawyers are moving in a direction of amping up their attacks on the investigation, the FBI, the Justice Department - this even as the White House continues to say that the president is fully cooperating.
CHANG: All right, so meanwhile, Mueller's investigation grinds on. Do you have any sense of what's next for the president as it relates to that?
KEITH: Yeah, so Trump's legal team had been in ongoing discussions with Mueller's team about a possible interview or other form of testimony from the president. Dowd had described those conversations as productive and constructive. And in the past, the president has said he wants to talk to Mueller. Today he said it again. So that's all we know.
CHANG: We'll see. All right, that's NPR's Tamara Keith. Thank you.
KEITH: You're welcome.
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