Many years ago, John Dowd was Chief of Strike Force 18, a unit within the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section of the Justice Department. In that capacity, he conducted massive and complex investigations of underworld financial crimes and related organized criminal schemes. He was and remains a legend among my aging generation of Strike Force lawyers and throughout the Justice Department.
When Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to investigate possible collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia, the president wisely retained Dowd’s services. Working with co-counsel Ty Cobb, Dowd interacted with Mueller and his team of angry Democrats as they did their best to take down the president.
The strategy pursued by Dowd was daring and unconventional. Contrary to the all-out resistance mounted by Bill Clinton’s lawyers in dealing with Independent Counsel Ken Starr, Trump’s legal team pursued a course of total transparency and complete cooperation with Team Mueller.
So how did it come about that the president did not assert executive privilege, made his staff — including White House Counsel Don McGahn — available for interrogation by Mueller’s Clintonistas, and produced over one million documents?
The answers to those questions came shortly after the release of the Mueller report when Dowd was interviewed on Fox News. In that interview he laid out the presidents’ strategy and marching orders to his lawyers in their dealings with Team Mueller and discussed the claim that Trump had ordered Mueller’s firing.
On Fox and Friends, host Steve Doocy asked Dowd, “When did President Trump say go out there and fire Mueller?” Dowd responded as follows.
“He never did. I was there at the same time that the report says that McGahn mentioned this, and I was assigned to deal with Mueller, and I briefed the president every day. And every week I saw Mueller or [Assistant Special Counsel James] Quarles for eight months.
“At no time did the president ever say, you know, John I’m going to get rid of him [Mueller], Don [McGahn] is not going to do it.
“It was just the opposite. Here’s the message the president had for Bob Mueller for me to carry:
“One, you tell him that I respect what he’s doing.
“Number two, you tell him he’s got my full cooperation.
“Number three, get it done as quickly as possible.
“And, number four, whatever else you need, let me know.
“That was always the message, and that’s exactly what we did. And, as you know, we produced everything without a document missing, without a lie. Can you imagine in Washington someone without a lie?”
When Doocy asked about the president’s Tweets calling the Mueller investigation a witch hunt, Dowd replied, “I talked to Bob [Mueller] about that, and he said, ‘I understand. He has to do that for political reasons.’
“One time, early on, Mueller said, ‘I don’t want to scare off witnesses.’
“I said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what. The president and I will make sure we’ll say publicly [to] cooperate with Bob Mueller.’ And we did, early on, so that was it.
“I think there was a misunderstanding with Don McGahn. People forget that it was Rosenstein that ambushed the president with the appointment of Mueller. So the president never had a chance to think about it, have him [Mueller] vetted.”
Doocy pointed out that the Mueller report says that the president told McGahn to fire Mueller, which elicited this reply:
“Yes, that’s the report. I don’t believe it. I think the president wanted McGahn to call Rosenstein and have him vetted because the president believed that Mueller did have some conflicts. Whether he did or not, the president as the number one law enforcement officer was entitled to ask Rosenstein to do that. He asked his White House counsel to do it.”
When asked to rate the Mueller report on a scale of one to ten, Dowd said, “It’s an ‘F’. I used to have a Strike Force, I ran cases just like this. There are things that are missing. There are parts of it that just aren’t right. And I would say that they had a junior writer of the New York Times do it. It’s very poor.”
The Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee want Mueller to testify about his investigation. Obviously they believe that he will be able to provide support for their stated belief that the president obstructed justice.
I hope Mueller does appear and testify. If he does, then he will be open to cross-examination by the minority committee members who will be able to probe every aspect of his investigation. That would include such areas of interest as the following:
When did Mueller learn there was no collusion with Russia?
Did he delay announcing that there was no collusion? If so, why?
Did he drag out the investigation in the hope that the president, under constant and unremitting accusations of treason, would crack and submit to interrogation by Mueller’s Hillary acolytes? In other words, did Mueller prolong the investigation in the hope of luring the president into a General Flynn-style perjury trap?
Why did he hire only angry Democrat lawyers including one who had represented the Clinton Foundation and another who had contributed to Hillary’s campaign and attended her abortive election night victory party?
These are all good questions, and like all good cross, the witness’s answers will be irrelevant. We already know the truth, such that Mueller can give whatever answer he wants. The onslaught of the questions alone will discredit Mueller.
But an even more productive line of questioning has been provided by John Dowd. The committee minority should use Dowd’s terrific interview as the template for questioning Mueller about his report’s spurious discussion of obstruction of justice. If Mueller honors his oath to speak the truth and confirms even a fraction of Dowd’s narrative, Team Mueller’s unprofessional and sophomoric claim of possible obstruction by the president will be exposed for the cheap political smear that it is.
So, as Mueller takes the witness stand, let the cry go forth:
George Parry is a former federal and state prosecutor. He is a regular contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer and blogs at knowledgeisgood.net. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.