On Thursday, he made news again by resigning as Trump’s personal attorney amid a shake-up in Trump’s legal team. In an email to The Washington Post, Dowd wrote, “I love the President and wish him well.”
But decades before Dowd, 76, began defending his most famous client, he was known for a sustained crusade against his most famous opponent: baseball pariah Pete Rose. It was Dowd, in 1989, who investigated allegations that the Cincinnati Reds superstar had routinely gambled on baseball games. In fact, Dowd was given the same title by Major League Baseball that Robert S. Mueller III was given by the Justice Department to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election: special counsel. It was Dowd’s 252-page report, and its airtight bill of misdeeds, that resulted in Rose being banned from baseball.
In Dowd, a stocky right-hander out of Emory Law, Rose met an adversary that bedeviled him more than any big league pitcher ever did. Well after delivering his devastating report, Dowd has made a point of keeping the pressure on whenever baseball’s all-time hit leader launched one of his periodic campaigns to be reinstated or considered for the Hall of Fame.
He keeps his findings — along the betting logs, phone records, polygraph exams and other evidence — in the public view via a website, thedowdreport.com. When Rose seemed to be gaining ground in a comeback attempt, Dowd pushed back, citing the players who had thanked him for purging Rose from the game and noting that Rose had never apologized for lying under oath during the investigation.
Dowd declined a request for an interview.
The faceoff started in February 1989, when MLB hired Dowd, a former federal prosecutor and a high-profile defense lawyer, to probe reports that Rose was betting heavily and frequently on Reds games. Rose was the team’s manager at the time and such gambling would be a clear violation of MLB Rule 21, which mandates that any offender be “declared permanently ineligible.”
Rose denied the allegations forcefully, even as the evidence mounted against him. Like Dowd’s current client, Rose largely employed a strategy of deny everything, admit nothing and attack the investigators.
In the case of Rose, the tactic seemed to rankle. In 2014, Dowd noted to The Washington Post that Rose had spent 15 years attacking him and the two commissioners who oversaw the investigation.
“We were crooks, thieves, liars, perjurers. You talk about defaming the [expletive] out of us,” Dowd said. “I’m sorry but we weren’t corrupt and dishonest.”
But Dowd’s case was overwhelming. He collected gambling ledgers, bank and phone records and court documents. He took depositions from Rose’s friends who had placed bets for him, from one of his bookies, from Rose himself. He found that Rose was betting five to 10 games a day, every day, in basketball, football, hockey and baseball, at about $2,000 a game. In one month, Rose lost more than $67,000, and he was deeply in debt to the bookies, including $200,000 in the hole at one point to a Staten Island bookie linked to the Mafia.
Rose lied repeatedly in his deposition. Rose denied knowing people whom he’d written checks to, left tickets for, who had testified extensively about hanging out with him. Dowd showed Rose his own betting records, in his own handwriting, and he denied they were his.
Dowd filed his report to A. Bartlett Giamatti in May 1989, and the baseball commissioner scheduled a hearing for Rose to respond to the vast evidence against him. Rose did not respond, instead voluntarily accepting a permanent ban from baseball, with the ability to apply for reinstatement after one year.
He applied in 1999, when Bud Selig had taken over as commissioner, but Selig never ruled. Rose remains in baseball purgatory, his name a permanent prompt in a talent-vs.-character legacy debate.
After years of denial, he admitted in 2004 that had indeed bet on baseball. Rose was creeping back into the baseball hinterlands with gigs as a television commentator being honored in some pregame ceremonies. He had applied for reinstatement to baseball under a new commissioner, Rob Manfred, in 2015. Reporters again turned to Dowd for his thoughts, and in two radio interviews, Dowd said that in addition to betting on baseball, his investigation had uncovered that Rose was sleeping with underage girls.
In one interview, Dowd said that one of Rose’s friends had been “running young women down in Florida for his [Rose’s] satisfaction.” In another, Dowd said that Rose’s friend “told us that he not only ran bets but he ran young girls for him down at spring training, ages 12 to 14. Isn’t that lovely? So that’s statutory rape every time you do that.”
Rose sued Dowd for defamation in federal court in Philadelphia, claiming the comments caused the makers of a pain cream and Skechers shoes to not renew contracts with him. The Skechers deal, if renewed, would have been worth $250,000, while the maker of Myoflex pain cream might have renewed its deal with Rose for $71,500, his lawyers alleged.
In response, Dowd filed a declaration earlier this year from a woman who claimed she was 15 when she first had sex with Rose over a period of years. Rose acknowledged that he had sex with the girl when he was 34 and married with two children, but that the girl was 16, which is the legal age of consent in Ohio. That revelation caused the Philadelphia Phillies to cancel a day in his honor last August when his name was to be added to the team’s “Wall of Fame,” and Fox Sports removed him from their postseason baseball broadcasts.
A federal judge dismissed the suit in mid-December after the two sides agreed to an undisclosed settlement, according to Dowd’s attorney. Rose reportedly makes his living now largely through paid autograph sessions in Las Vegas. Next to a casino.
And Dowd signed on to defend the president, who has been accused by more than a dozen women of sexual misconduct. Trump has denied the allegations, calling all the women liars.
This post has been updated.