A new name may play an unexpectedly big role in the Robert Mueller investigation: Hope Hicks. The 29-year-old director of White House communications is coming under scrutiny for comments she allegedly made in regard to Donald Trump Jr.'s controversial meeting with Russians during the campaign, reports the New York Times. Hicks reportedly said emails showing that the meeting was set up to get dirt on Hillary Clinton "will never get out," a statement that rang alarm bells for the then-spokesman of Trump's legal team because it could be construed as obstruction of justice. Details:
- Background: This is coming to light because Mark Corallo, the former spokesman for Trump's legal team in the campaign, has agreed to be interviewed by Mueller. The special counsel is focusing on the meeting at Trump Tower, and how the president and his team later released a statement saying the meeting was primarily about Russian adoption policy and not Clinton, per the Times.
- The warning: Sources say Corallo plans to tell Mueller that he warned Trump and Hicks that their statement disguising the true nature of the meeting would backfire because Trump Jr.'s own emails would surface. He says Hicks then asserted that wouldn't happen because so few people had access to them. Corallo has told people he was alarmed that Hicks said that in the presence of the president and without a lawyer on the phone.
- Denial: "The idea that Hope Hicks ever suggested that emails or other documents would be concealed or destroyed is completely false," her attorney tells the Times.
- Still no case: At the National Review, David French writes that he is "somewhat puzzled" by all the fuss here. The obstruction-of-justice statute at play "does not criminalize lying to the public"—and there's no evidence to suggest Trump or his aides have lied to Mueller's team or impeded the investigation, French notes. The statement released by the White House may have been immoral—"misleading the public is a grave problem"—but not illegal.
- Ditto: Neither the Trump Tower meeting nor the misleading statement were criminal, writes Jacob Sullum at Reason. Trump is in trouble only if he lies to Mueller about something in the upcoming interview.
- Trouble ahead? In a Vanity Fair piece headlined "Could Hope Hicks Be the One to Bring Down Trump?," Tina Nguyen sees potentially serious consequences. Hicks' alleged statement opens a new avenue of investigation for Mueller and raises questions about what she has previously told investigators. "Corallo's account could indicate that she—and perhaps the people closest to Trump—are in more trouble than they anticipated."
- Bannon's target: The Wrap notes that Michael Wolff's book Fire and Fury recounts how Steve Bannon berated Hicks. "You don't know how much trouble you're in," Wolff quotes Bannon as screaming at her, while advising her to get a lawyer. "You are dumb as a stone!" The Wrap adds a new book by Howard Kurtz has Bannon hurling a similar insult at Ivanka Trump, allegedly telling her: "You're just another staffer who doesn't know what you're doing."
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