Former Trump legal team spokesman plans to tell Mueller that Hope Hicks hinted at concealing explosive emails about the Trump Tower Russia meeting

 

  • President Donald Trump's legal team's former spokesman, Mark Corallo, plans to tell special counsel Robert Mueller that a key White House aide may have sought to obstruct justice last year.
  • Corallo reportedly spoke to White House communications director Hope Hicks on a conference call with Trump last year, during which Corallo said Hicks may have hinted at concealing crucial emails that are relevant to the Russia probe.
  • The emails related to a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, between several Russia-linked individuals and members of the Trump campaign, that is being heavily scrutinized by Mueller and congressional investigators.


Mark Corallo, the former spokesman for President Donald Trump's legal team, plans to tell special counsel Robert Mueller that White House communications director Hope Hicks may have hinted at concealing crucial emails that were exchanged prior to Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting in June 2016 with a Kremlin-connected lawyer, The New York Times reported

Corallo was contacted by the special counsel's team last week for an interview, as Business Insider previously reported. The interview is set to take place sometime in the next two weeks. 

Corallo served as the legal team spokesman until July 2017. He resigned shortly after news of Trump Jr.'s Russia meeting emerged. According to author Michael Wolff's book, "Fire & Fury: Inside the Trump White House," Corallo resigned because he believed that the president's decision to craft a misleading statement on his son's behalf in response to reports of the meeting could have represented obstruction of justice.

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Hicks and her sister, Mary Grace, were successful teen models. Hicks posed for Ralph Lauren and appeared on the cover of "It Girl," a spin-off of the best-selling "Gossip Girl" book and TV series.

Hicks and her sister, Mary Grace, were successful teen models. Hicks posed for Ralph Lauren and appeared on the cover of "It Girl," a spin-off of the best-selling "Gossip Girl" book and TV series.

Hicks met patriarch Trump and quickly "earned his trust," Ivanka Trump told The New York Times for a June 2016 profile on the spokeswoman.

In January 2015, Trump called Hicks into his office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower and told her she was joining his presidential campaign. "I think it’s 'the year of the outsider.' It helps to have people with outsider perspective," Hicks said Trump told her.

Hicks didn't have any political experience, but her public-relations roots run deep. Both grandfathers worked in PR, and her father, Paul, was the NFL's executive vice president for communications and public relations. He was also a town selectman from 1987 to 1991. Greenwich proclaimed April 23, 2016, as Paul B. Hicks III Day.

Hicks started working on what would become Trump's campaign five months before Trump announced his presidency, after he famously rode a golden escalator down to the lobby of his tower on June 16, 2015.

That makes Hicks the campaign staffer who has persisted in Trump's inner circle the longest. She outlasted his first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and several senior advisers.

People close to her describe Hicks as a friendly, loyal fighter. Trump has called her a "natural" and "outstanding."

While reporters who have worked with Hicks say she's polite, they have expressed frustration that she was often unreachable on the campaign trail, not responding to requests for comment, or denying access to the candidate.

She said her mom, Caye, told her to write a book about her experience with Trump, like "Primary Colors," the fictional novel depicting President Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign. "You don't even know," she said she told her mother.

During the campaign, Hicks spent most of her days fielding reporters' requests and questions — even reportedly taking dictation from Trump to post his tweets.

During the campaign, Hicks stayed in a free apartment in a Trump building, though she'd often go home to her parents' house in Connecticut when she could.

These days she's in DC. Trump named her his assistant to the president and director of strategic communications in December.

She still flies below the radar, directing the spotlight back on Trump. The then president-elect called her up to the microphone to speak at a "Thank You" rally in December.

It's been said she can act as a sort of Trump whisperer, understanding his many moods and professionally executing what needs to be done. She still only calls him "Sir" or "Mr. Trump."

"If the acting thing doesn’t work out, I could really see myself in politics," Hicks told Greenwich Magazine when she was 13. "Who knows."

In June, the White House released salary info for 377 top staffers. Hicks gets paid the maximum amount that any of Trump's aides receive: $179,700.

Hicks is making as much as Trump's former chief of staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Steve Bannon, former press secretary Sean Spicer, senior counselor Kellyanne Conway, policy adviser Stephen Miller, and communications official Omarosa Manigault.

Some family members and friends have expressed concern that Hicks is so closely tied to a president whose policies and statements are unpopular with a significant number of Americans, but are confident that she'll come through unscathed.

"There is just no way that a camera or an episode or a documentary could capture what has gone on. There is nothing like it," Hicks told Marie Claire in June 2016. "It is the most unbelievable, awe-inspiring thing."

In August, Trump asked Hicks to be the new interim White House director of communications, a job that Michael Dubke, Sean Spicer, and Anthony Scaramucci held and left in Trump's first six months in office. The White House will announce who will serve in the job permanently "at the appropriate time."

The 28-year-old Hicks is the youngest communications director in history.

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The meeting, as well as Trump's alleged role in it, have been a source of keen interest for both Mueller's team and congressional committees investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 election. Trump Jr. said in an initial statement — which The Washington Post later reported was "dictated" by Trump — that "it was a short introductory meeting" that focused on Russian adoptions and did not relate to campaign business. 

But the statement had to be repudiated when it emerged that Trump Jr. accepted the meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya after he was offered kompromat on then Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Later, The New York Times published a chain of bombshell emails which showed the meeting was pitched to Trump Jr. as being "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." 

According to The Times' report on Wednesday, Corallo plans to tell Mueller that Hicks said during a conference call last July with Corallo and Trump that the emails "will never get out." The call reportedly concerned Corallo for several reasons. For one, Corallo reportedly believed Hicks may have been suggesting that the emails be concealed. He was also concerned because Hicks had made the statement without a lawyer present and while the president was on the call. 

He resigned from his position shortly after the call. 

Hicks' attorney pushed back against Corallo's reported account of the call. "She never said that," her attorney, Robert Trout, told The Times. "And the idea that Hope Hicks ever suggested that emails or other documents would be concealed or destroyed is completely false." 

Hicks is one of several key current and former Trump aides that the special counsel was interested in speaking to. She interviewed with Mueller's team in early December.  

Hicks has long been one of Trump's closest confidants, and The Washington Post reported last year that she was among several aides who urged Trump aboard Air Force One last summer to release a truthful statement about the purpose of the Russia meeting so that it would not have to be amended later. 

The Times reported that Hicks and Trump began strategizing about the statement shortly after the paper sent a list of 14 questions about the meeting on July 8, 2017. While they were discussing how to craft the statement, the report said, Hicks was in frequent contact with Trump Jr. via text message. 

Neither Corallo nor Trump's personal lawyer at the time, Marc Kasowitz, were in on the meeting or informed about the statement until after it was released. 

While Hicks and other close aides were at odds over how truthful the statement should be, Trump reportedly was adamant that it should say the purpose of the meeting was to discuss Russian adoptions.

"We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at that time and there was no follow up," the final statement read.

Trump Jr. had insisted that the statement include the word, "primarily," per the report. 

Trump is a key figure in several threads of the Russia investigation, and Mueller is said to be building an obstruction-of-justice case against him based on his decision to fire FBI director James Comey last May. Comey was overseeing the Russia investigation at the time, and Trump told NBC's Lester Holt that "this Russia thing" had been a factor in his decision.

Legal experts said Mueller's focus on Trump's involvement in issuing the statement about the Russia meeting is likely an attempt to establish a pattern of conduct and intent, which is critical to proving obstruction of justice. 

"It also shows that he's interested in attempts to conceal or shape testimony. The President's actions are under scrutiny," former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti wrote on Twitter.

But "even if Trump is not charged with a crime in connection to the statement, it could be useful to Mueller's team to show Trump's conduct to a jury that may be considering other charges" like obstruction of justice, a source told NBC News last year.

It is routine for investigators to revisit individuals with whom they previously spoke as new information arises, as Mueller did earlier this month when he recalled for questioning at least one person who was involved in the June 2016 meeting. That information can be in the form of statements by others they interviewed or press accounts.

"Here, it is clear that Mueller still has questions about how the Administration's statement was crafted aboard Air Force One," said former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Cramer. "That focus seems to be on the President and his son."

He added that the statement by itself does not prove obstruction, and that it is unclear whether Trump intended to mislead the public and obstruct the investigation, or to avoid embarrassment. 

"We are, however, seeing a mosaic being constructed which all point to the President and/or a few around him trying to derail the investigation," Cramer said.

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SEE ALSO: Mueller is homing in on the Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer and whether Trump sought to obstruct justice

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