An attorney named John Dowd is in the news this week. He’s one of President Trump’s lawyers and, yesterday, floated a pretty ridiculous legal theory which posits that, as a matter of law, a president cannot ever be guilty of obstructing justice. We could talk about that all day if this wasn’t a baseball website. We could note that good attorneys do not typically float last-line-of-defense arguments like this before their clients are even charged with a crime. We could also note that, that aside, we do not crown kings in this country, we elect presidents who are not above the law. But let’s leave the deep diving on that for another time.
This is interesting to us for baseball reasons, however. That’s because the seemingly confused John Dowd representing President Trump is also the same John Dowd whose investigation landed Pete Rose on baseball’s permanently ineligible list and continued, as recently as last summer, to land Pete Rose in hotter and hotter water.
Dowd has been a Washington power lawyer for decades. He started as a DOJ lawyer. I’m not going to say he’s been around the block a few times, but he worked on an investigation of mobster Meyer Lansky of all people. He also helped try the first ever RICO case, which became the primary weapon used by the government against organized crime. For the past 35-40 years, though, he has been on the other side of things, mostly defending white collar criminals and politicians who have found themselves in ethical hot water. He represented figures ensnared in the Iran-Contra affair. He represented John McCain when he was caught up in the Keating Five scandal in the early 90s and a lot of less famous politicians.
People look down their noses at lawyers who represent corrupt or allegedly corrupt politicians, but it’s a pretty neat career track. One of my old bosses was a mini-version of him, working mostly in Ohio, and as a result I got in on that kind of work quite a bit. It’s pretty fun, actually. Quite interesting too, mostly because you’re dealing with powerful men who think they’re not accountable to anyone until the moment they are. As the old saying among lawyers goes, the best clients are rich and dumb, and if you get enough rich, dumb clients, you can make a mighty fine living for yourself. Hat’s off to Dowd, then.
He’s most famous, however, for leading Major League Baseball’s investigation into Pete Rose after allegations emerged that Rose bet on baseball. The first reports of Rose’s gambling came in Sports Illustrated in March of 1989. Dowd was hired as Special Counsel on April 3. He delivered his report on Rose’s gambling to Commissioner Bart Giamatti in May. By August Rose realized that Dowd had him dead to rights. Rose agreed to the permanent ban, essentially pleading no contest to Dowd’s damning report. With that, Rose’s time in baseball was over. Dowd, however, would continue to handle investigations for Major League Baseball, looking into gambling allegations against Lenny Dykstra and some umpires and into George Steinbrenner’s hiring of a gambler named Howie Spira to dig up dirt on outfielder Dave Winfield. Dowd’s work got Steinbrenner banned for a time too.
That didn’t end things between Rose and Dowd, however. Over the years, Rose would deny the contents of Dowd’s report whenever it suited his interests to do so. Dowd would then give an interview in which he said he stood by his work, Rose would go away and that would be that until the next time. Eventually, of course, Rose copped to basically everything in order to sell books, to keep himself in the public eye and to mount an ultimately unsuccessful campaign to get back in the game.
Last year, Dowd took aim at Rose, however, escalating their decades-long war. Dowd was interviewed by a radio station in West Chester, Pennsylvania during which he was asked about Rose’s character. Dowd responded, saying that a Rose associate named Michael Bertolini told investigators back in 1989 that he “ran young girls” to Rose during spring training, which Dowd called “statutory rape every time.” His full comments:
“Michael Bertolini, you know, told us that he not only ran bets but he ran young girls for him down at spring training, ages 12 to 14,” Dowd responded last year. “Isn’t that lovely. So that’s statutory rape every time you do that.”
In the wake of that Rose sued Dowd for defamation. Rose has subsequently admitted to having sex with a woman who, allegedly unbeknownst to him, was underage at the time. The woman in question submitted an affidavit saying she was under 16 when she had sex with Rose. Dowd likewise executed a sworn affidavit standing by his assertion. In the wake of all of this, Rose was fired from his commentator job with Fox and was disinvited to a reunion of the 1980 Phillies World Series championship team. His time as a public figure in baseball — seemingly on the rebound, even if he wasn’t reinstated — now seems to be over for good.
Dowd, now 76, chugs ahead. He was hired last June to defend the president in a personal capacity against whatever might spin out of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Time will tell if he’ll have to put his novel obstruction of justice defense to work, but for Trump’s sake, it may be better off if he let a different lawyer take a crack of that.
Luckily, the man who brought down the current Hit King has a co-counsel in his defense of Trump. Amusingly, he shares a name with the former Hit King. His name is Ty Cobb.