In order to understand the report from the New York Times suggesting that White House Communication’s Director Hope Hicks might be implicated in obstruction of justice, it is helpful to go back and review how the whole story about Donald Trump Jr’s. June meeting with Russians unfolded. CNN has a helpful timeline, but here are the significant dates:
July 8 – NYT reported that Donald Trump Jr. arranged a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with a Russian lawyer who has connections to the Kremlin. After contacting the White House, the report included this statement from Trump Jr. that was drafted on Air Force One as the president returned from a trip to Europe.
It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared (Kushner) and Paul (Manafort) to stop by. 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 the time and there was no follow up. I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.
July 11 – Donald Trump Jr. released his emails with Robert Goldstone minutes before they were published by the NYT. In them, the intent of the meeting was disclosed.
The Crown Prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.
This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin.
Obviously Trump Jr. was interested.
Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?
Robert Mueller is clearly interested in what happened at that meeting. But investigators are also interested in what happened in the time period between July 8th and 11th when Trump and his team tried to come up with a cover story for the meeting. That’s where Hope Hicks comes into the picture. Here is what Mark Corallo, former spokesperson for Trump’s legal team, will reportedly tell Mueller about a conference call he had with Trump and Hicks on July 9th.
In Mr. Corallo’s account — which he provided contemporaneously to three colleagues who later gave it to The Times — he told both Mr. Trump and Ms. Hicks that the statement drafted aboard Air Force One would backfire because documents would eventually surface showing that the meeting had been set up for the Trump campaign to get political dirt about Mrs. Clinton from the Russians.
According to his account, Ms. Hicks responded that the emails “will never get out” because only a few people had access to them. Mr. Corallo, who worked as a Justice Department spokesman during the George W. Bush administration, told colleagues he was alarmed not only by what Ms. Hicks had said — either she was being naïve or was suggesting that the emails could be withheld from investigators — but also that she had said it in front of the president without a lawyer on the phone and that the conversation could not be protected by attorney-client privilege.
In his book, Michael Wolff wrote that Corallo quit shortly after this phone call because he believed the Air Force One meeting amounted to obstruction of justice. He also reported that, in response to all of this, Steve Bannon told Hope Hicks that she needed to get a lawyer because she didn’t didn’t know how much trouble she was in.
All of that sounds pretty foreboding when it comes to the Trump team. But I’d suggest that Margaret Hartmann has identified what should trouble them most of all.
Even if what Corallo actually tells Mueller doesn’t amount to anything, his reported plan to spill new information is likely to raise fears of disloyalty among White House staffers, as well as with the president himself. And as we’ve learned, when Trump gets fixated on the loyalty of his subordinates, nothing good comes of it.
Mueller’s team has already negotiated plea agreements with Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos in exchange for their testimony, while indictments hang over the heads of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. Now we know that the former spokesperson for Trump’s legal team is willing to spill the beans on at least some of what he knows. Pair that with the fact that almost all the leaks about this investigation have come from within the White House, not from Mueller’s team, and it is very possible that this investigation has progressed a lot further than any of us know.