The resignation of John Dowd, Donald Trump's top personal attorney, is the latest -- and largest -- signal that the President of the United States is shifting his strategy in regards special counsel Bob Mueller's ongoing probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Even as Mueller's questions for Trump have come into much sharper relief over the past 10 days, Trump has upped his personal attacks on the former FBI director even while adding controversial conservative attorney/talking head Joseph di Genova to his team. And now, the Dowd resignation.
The message is unmistakable: The closer Mueller and his team move to Trump himself -- the terms of an interview between the special counsel and the President remain a matter of considerable debate -- the more the President appears to be bracing for a very negative end result from the probe and putting the pieces in places to win the PR battle that will follow the conclusion of the Mueller probe.
Remember that Dowd was part of the legal braintrust that assured Trump that this whole Mueller probe would be wrapped up by the end of the year, that there was absolutely nothing to worry about and that the best course of action for Trump was to ignore Mueller.
What appears to have dawned on Trump is that playing nice (or his version of nice) with Mueller isn't working. Mueller doesn't appear to be moving to end the probe any time soon and he seems disinclined to treat Trump nicely. Of course, this was always a ridiculous supposition by Trump: Mueller is leading a criminal probe and will go wherever the evidence leads. The idea that he would go easy on the President because Trump didn't attack him by name is totally without grounding in anything we know about Mueller.
But, that certainly seems like the bill of goods that Trump's legal team sold to the President, likely as a way to manage his worst instincts when it came to the Mueller probe. This is all taken care of, boss, you can imagine them telling Trump. It's all going to be over soon and you are going to be very happy with the results.
Trump bought that view -- or at least didn't outright dismiss it -- for quite a while. And, less than two weeks ago, he was insisting that reports that he was plotting a shakeup of his legal team was false.
Tweeted Trump: "The Failing New York Times purposely wrote a false story stating that I am unhappy with my legal team on the Russia case and am going to add another lawyer to help out. Wrong. I am VERY happy with my lawyers, John Dowd, Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow. They are doing a great job and have shown conclusively that there was no Collusion with Russia."
That veil has been torn off for Trump now -- likely the result of the face-to-face meeting late last week between his lawyers and the special counsel's office in which Mueller and his team went over the areas they are interested in talking to the president about: The June 2016 meeting with the Russians at Trump Tower, his role in crafting a statement from his son Don Jr. about that meeting, his firing of Mike Flynn as the national security adviser and the firing of James Comey as FBI director.
What that meeting seems to drive home for Trump is the reality of his situation. And the fact that the "play nice" strategy with Mueller had gotten him exactly zilch.
And so, Trump began taking matters into his own hands. The hiring of di Genova, an attorney who has regularly espoused the idea that there is a deep-state conspiracy within the government trying to frame Trump for Russia's election meddling, was the first sign of the change. Then came Trump's tweets over the weekend -- in which he called out Mueller by name and, wrongly, said there were 13 Democrats on Mueller's team. The resignation of Dowd feels of a piece with those moves.
This is all Trump taking back control of his own messaging around the special counsel investigation. He tried it "their" way. Now he is going to do it his way.
And what is Trump's way? A relentless effort to undermine Mueller and those who work for him in hopes of discrediting whatever the special counsel ultimately finds. If Trump, di Genova and the rest can sell the idea to the conservative base that Mueller -- a Republican who was appointed FBI director by George W. Bush -- is a partisan Democrat pursuing the Deep State's anti-Trump agenda, then it lessens the blow of whatever Mueller finds. OF course Mueller's report is negative about Trumpworld! He's part of the establishment! And all that.
The simple fact is this: Trump has come to the realization that Mueller has backed him into a corner. And when Trump's back is against the wall, he reverts back to what (and who) he knows best. And that's attack, attack, attack. Get ready. Because that's what's coming.