Donald Trump’s lead lawyer in Russia probe resigns

Donald Trump’s response to an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election was thrown into turmoil as his lead lawyer resigned.

John Dowd left after Mr Trump was said to have increasingly ignored his advice on how to deal with the probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Mr Trump’s legal team have been in negotiations in recent weeks over the scope and terms of a possible upcoming interview of the president by Mr Mueller.

Mr Dowd was said to have advised privately against Mr Trump agreeing to be interviewed, but the president was increasingly bullish about doing so in order to bring the long investigation to a head.

Shortly after his top lawyer’s resignation Mr Trump was asked if he was still willing to be interviewed by Mr Mueller. He replied: "I would like to."

In recent days, against Mr Dowd’s advice, Mr Trump also began publicly attacking Mr Mueller, including by name on Twitter, where he called the probe a biased "witch hunt".

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At the weekend Mr Trump wrote on Twitter: "Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans?"

The strategy pursued by Mr Dowd had been to hand over everything Mr Mueller requested and, as one official put it, to "mind our manners".

But Mr Trump’s approach was said to have changed to one of attack after his legal team received long lists of questions the Mueller team wanted to ask him.

He also began to change tack after the Mueller team began requesting documents from the Trump Organization.

Mr Trump was also said to have been annoyed that his legal team had for months been telling him the investigation was coming to an end soon.

He decided to take control of his own legal strategy, which includes being interviewed by Mr Mueller without unnecessary delay.

In recent days Mr Trump also hired Joseph DiGenova, another lawyer, who has virulently and publicly accused the FBI and US Justice Department of trying to undermine Mr Trump.

Mr DiGenova claims the FBI and Justice Department carried out a "brazen plot to exonerate Hillary Clinton and frame an incoming president with a false Russian conspiracy".

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His hiring was viewed as a signal that Mr Trump’s allies would now be more aggressive in public attempts to discredit the Mueller investigation.

On his departure Mr Dowd said: "I love the president and wish him well."

Jay Sekulow, a lawyer who also represents Mr Trump in the Russia probe, said: "John Dowd is a friend and has been a valuable member of our legal team.

"We will continue our ongoing representation of the president and our cooperation with the Office of Special Counsel."

Mr Dowd had been Mr Trump’s lead lawyer for the Russia probe since last summer when the president’s longtime personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz stepped down.

Mr Kasowitz had also advocated a more aggressive approach to the Mueller probe, and is known to have spoken to Mr Trump recently.

Meanwhile, Mr Mueller’s team is believed to have set out several main areas they want to talk to the president about.

Those include the crafting of a misleading statement on Air Force One that related to a meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr and a Russian lawyer.

Other areas include matters relating to the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, and that of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.