Posts

Stormy, Pee Tapes, and Pussy-Grabbing: The Three Explanations for the Cohen-Hicks-Trump Call on October 8, 2016

The warrant to search Michael Cohen’s property released yesterday revealed what the FBI Agent who wrote the affidavit supporting the application believed was a conference call between Michael Cohen, Donald Trump, and Hope Hicks on October 8, 2016.

On October 8, 2016, at approximately 7:20 p.m., Cohen received a call from Hicks. Sixteen seconds into the call, Trump joined the call, and the call continued for over four minutes. 27 Based on the toll records that the USAO has obtained to date, I believe that this was the first call Cohen had received or made to Hicks in at least multiple weeks, and that Cohen and Trump spoke about once a month prior to this date — specifically, prior to this call on October 8, 2016, Cohen and Trump had spoken once in May, once in June, once in July, zero times in August, and twice in September.

27 I believe that Trump joined the call between Cohen and Hicks based on my review of toll records. Specifically, I know that a call was initiated between Cohen’s telephone number and Trump’s telephone number at the same time the records indicate that Cohen was talking to Hicks. After the Cohen-Trump call was initiated, it lasted the same period of time as the Cohen-Hicks call. Additionally, the toll records indicate a “-1” and then Trump’s telephone number, which, based on my training and experience, means that the call was either transferred to Trump, or that Trump was added to the call as a conference or three-way call participant. In addition, based on my conversations with an FBI agent who has interviewed Hicks, I have learned that Hicks stated, in substance, that to the best of her recollection, she did not learn about the allegations made by Clifford until early November 2016. Hicks was not specifically asked about this three-way call.

The agent’s description (which was based entirely off toll records and assumed every call pertained to this scandal and not the many other scandals Trump’s campaign was juggling at the time) has led many to question Hicks’ testimony to HJC, including (in a letter to her lawyer) from Jerry Nadler. Her lawyer Robert Trout (who should be taking a victory lap from his likely imminent win in the Bijan Kian trial) says she stands by the her testimony, in which said that that call involved rumors that TMZ had found the pee tape.

Q Okay. When did you first become aware of the “Access Hollywood” tape?

A About an hour before it was made public.

Q And what was your reaction to it?

A Honestly, my reaction was, it was a Friday afternoon, and I was hoping to get home to see my family for the first time in a few months, and that wasn’t happening.

Q Did you have any other reactions?

A Look, I obviously knew that it was going to be a challenge from a communications standpoint.

Q Did you discuss it with Mr. Trump?

A I did, yes.

Q Tell me about those discussions, please. A I made him aware of the email I received from The Washington Post which described the tape. And I don’t know if the initial email did this, but certainly one of the subsequent emails and exchange provided a transcript of the tape. So, described those different components to Mr. Trump and tried to evaluate the situation.

Q And how did he react to that?

A You know, he wanted to be certain, before we engaged, that it was legitimate. And I think we all felt it was important that we request to see the actual tape or listen to the audio before responding.

Q Was he upset?

A Yes. I think everybody was in, like, a little bit of shock.

Q And did he ask you how — did he seek your advice on how to respond?

A Yes. There were quite a few of us, so it was very much a group discussion, given that this unfolded at a debate-prep session. Q And do you remember who else you discussed the tape with?

A Who else was present there?

Q Yeah, at that time. A Sure. Reince Priebus, Chris Christie, Jeff Sessions, Stephen Miller, Jason Miller, Steve Bannon, David Bossie, Kellyanne Conway. Later, Jared Kushner. I think that’s it.

Q Do you recall reaching out to Michael Cohen about the tape?

A My recollection of reaching out to Michael took place the following day. And it wasn’t about the tape; it was about — this is going to get confusing, but the day after the tape, there were rumors going around — I’m not sure exactly where — I heard it from our campaign spokesperson, Katrina Pierson, who was sort of like a — she had a lot of contacts, grassroots. And she had called to tell me that — or maybe sent me a message about rumors of a tape involving Mr. Trump in Moscow with, you know — can I say this?

[Discussion off the record.]

Ms. Hicks. — with Russian hookers, participating in some lewd activities. And so, obviously, I didn’t — I felt this was exactly how it had been described to me, which was a rumor. Nonetheless, I wanted to make sure that I stayed on top of it before it developed any further, to try to contain it from spiraling out of control. And the person that made me aware of the rumor said that TMZ might be the person that has access to this tape. I knew Michael Cohen had a good relationship with Harvey Levin, who works at TMZ. So I reached out to Michael to ask if he had heard of anything like this; if Harvey contacted him, if he could be in touch with me.

But that testimony is not entirely consistent with something in the Mueller Report, which suggested (based off FBI interviews with both Cohen and Giorgi Rtskhiladze) that the one time Trump would have heard about a pee tape was later in October, after Cohen and Rtskhiladze discussed the tapes via text.

Comey 1/7/17 Memorandum, at 1-2; Comey I 1/15/17 302, at 3. Comey’s briefing included the Steele reporting’s unverified allegation that the Russians had compromising tapes of the President involving conduct when he was a private citizen during a 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant. During the 2016 presidential campaign, a similar claim may have reached candidate Trump. On October 30, 20 I 6, Michael Cohen received a text from Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze that said, “Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there’s anything else. Just so you know …. ” 10/30/16 Text Message, Rtskhiladze to Cohen. Rtskhiladze said “tapes” referred to compromising tapes of Trump rumored to be held by persons associated with the Russian real estate conglomerate Crocus Group, which had helped host the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Russia. Rtskhiladze 4/4/18 302, at 12. Cohen said he spoke to Trump about the issue after receiving the texts from Rtskhiladze. Cohen 9/12/18 302, at 13. Rtskhiladze said he was told the tapes were fake, but he did not communicate that to Cohen. Rtskhiladze 5/10/18 302, at 7.

It’s certainly possible that this late October exchange was the fruit of earlier concerns about the pee tape, and that as part of chasing down the TMZ rumor, Cohen would have asked Rtskhiladze to help. But you’d think Mueller would have said that, especially if he knew that Trump had been on a call where it was all discussed.

Cohen offered a slightly different story, claiming that the call was about responding to the Access Hollywood video. But his answer to Eleanor Norton in which he raised the call moves directly onto the hush payments, as if they’re connected.

Ms. NORTON. Mr. Cohen, at the center of the reasons you are going to prison is convictions for campaign finance violations, and they center around some salacious revelations. The Washington Post reported or aired an Access Hollywood video. It set a record for the number of people who watched, crashed the newspaper’s server. But this happened in early October on the cusp of the election. What was Mr. Trump’s reaction to the video becoming public at that time and was he concerned about the impact of that video on the election?

Mr. COHEN. The answer is yes. As I stated before, I was in London at the time visiting my daughter, who is studying there for a Washington semester abroad, and I received a phone call during the dinner from Hope Hicks stating that she had just spoken to Mr. Trump and we need you to start making phone calls to the various different news outlets that you have relationships with, and we need to spin this. What we want to do is just to claim that this was men locker room talk.

Ms. NORTON. Was the concern about the election in particular?

Mr. COHEN. The answer is yes. Then, couple that with Karen McDougal, which then came out around the same time. And then on top of that the Stormy Daniels matter.

Ms. NORTON. Yeah, and these things happened in the month before the election and almost one after the other. The Stormy Daniels revelation where prosecutors and officials—the prosecutors learned of that—of that matter and prosecutors stated that the officials at the magazine contacted you about the story. And the magazine, of course, is the National Enquirer. Is that correct, that they did come to you?

Mr. COHEN. Yes, ma’am.

Ms. NORTON. Were you concerned about this news story becoming public right after the Access Hollywood study in terms of impact on the election?

Mr. COHEN. I was concerned about it, but more importantly, Mr. Trump was concerned about it.

Ms. NORTON. That was my next question. What was the President’s concern about these matters becoming public in October as we were about to go into an election?

Mr. COHEN. I don’t think anybody would dispute this belief that after the wildfire that encompassed the Billy Bush tape, that a second followup to it would have been pleasant. And he was concerned with the effect that it had had on the campaign, on how women were seeing him, and ultimately whether or not he would have a shot in the general election.

Frankly, it may well be that everyone is mixing up the many sex-related scandals Trump was fighting in October 2016. Or it may be that Hicks, Cohen, and Trump responded to the Access Hollywood video by deciding that they had to try to chase down all of the potential sex scandals — the long-simmering pee tape allegations, the several hush payment demands, among others — and preemptively quash them. That would be consistent with Steve Bannon’s claim that Marc Kasowitz was chasing down hundreds of scandals. If such a discussion took place (which might explain why all three would get on the phone together), then Hicks might otherwise have forgotten knowing about the hush payments earlier, or she locked in testimony denying that knowledge in December 2017 when she testified, and continues to tell a partial truth to avoid further legal jeopardy.

I mean, maybe Hicks is outright lying to protect earlier lies she told in 2017, before the whole hush payment story broke wide open. But it is certainly possible that if you work for Donald Trump all the sex scandals merge into one, either in fact, or in years old memories.

Update: Because people are asking, this is something that Mueller could have chased down. Hicks’ testimony was December 7, 2017 and March 13, 2018; as noted above, Rtskhiladze testified on April 4 and May 10, 2018. The interviews in which Cohen is believed to have told the truth all took place on September 12, 2018 or later. But since this was referred out (for reasons that are unclear, since it was part of the Mueller investigation for 7 months), he may not have had jurisdiction anymore. But SDNY certainly may have chased it down.

Hope Hicks Had More Awareness of the Flynn-Kislyak Aftermath Than the Mueller Report Discloses

As I noted in this post, even though the reporting on Hope Hicks’ testimony last week focused on the White House’s efforts to prevent her from fully testifying, she clearly did what she could to protect Trump even regarding his actions during the election and transition.

Which is why I want to look at two of her comments on matters more central to Mueller’s investigation — in this post, her elaboration of some comments she made about Mike Flynn.

Norm Eisen walked Hicks through something that shows up in this footnote of the Mueller Report:

Several witnesses said that the President was unhappy with Flynn for other reasons at this time. Bannon said that Flynn’s standing with the President was not good by December 2016. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 12. The President-Elect had concerns because President Obama had warned him about Flynn shortly after the election. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 4-5; Hicks 12/8/17 302, at 7 (President Obama’s comment sat with President-Elect Trump more than Hicks expected). Priebus said that the President had become unhappy with Flynn even before the story of his calls with Kislyak broke and had become so upset with Flynn that he would not look at him during intelligence briefings. Priebus 1/18/18 302, at 8. Hicks said that the President thought Flynn had bad judgment and was angered by tweets sent by Flynn and his son, and she described Flynn as “being on thin ice” by early February 2017. Hicks 12/8/17 302, at 7, 10.

As I pointed out earlier, Eisen was hired to make sure questioning of witnesses is conducted professionally. It’s also worth noting that some House Judiciary Committee members and staffers have seen backup documents on the Mueller Report and the Hicks’ 302s were among the documents requested; both of these exchanges seem to reflect non-public information.

Eisen has Hicks describe how, even before the FBI interviewed Flynn, Trump had some concerns about him. At first, Hicks tries to spin Trump’s response to President Obama’s counterintelligence warning about Flynn as a reaction about the importance Obama assigned the warning, rather than anything having to do with Flynn himself.

Q Okay. Who was Michael Flynn?

A Michael Flynn was somebody that supported Mr. Trump. He was at one point in time considered a possible Vice Presidential candidate. And he became somebody who frequently traveled with the candidate and introduced him at rallies.

Q And are you aware that President Obama made comments about Mr. Flynn to the —

A Yes.

Q — the President-elect?

A Yes.

Q And how did the President-elect receive those comments?

Mr. Purpura. You can answer.

Ms. Hicks. I think he was a bit bewildered that, you know, of all the things that the two of them could have been discussing, that that was something that came up.

Mr. Eisen. And did you feel that President Obama’s comments sat with the President-elect more than you expected?

Ms. Hicks. I did, yes.

Mr. Eisen. Can you — go ahead. Sorry. I cut you off.

Ms. Hicks. That’s okay. I feel like it maybe tainted his view of General Flynn just a little bit.

Mr. Eisen. Did there come a time when the President formed the opinion — during the transition; I’m asking now about the transition — that Flynn had bad judgment?

White House lawyer Pat Philbin interrupts here to invite Hicks to read the footnote. (Note, I find it weird that Philbin did this, and not Hicks’ attorney Robert Trout.)

Mr. Philbin. Could you give us a moment there?

[Discussion off the record.]

Mr. Eisen. Can you read the question back, please? Okay. I’ve asked the court reporter to read the question back. [The reporter read back the record as requested.]

Ms. Hicks. Yes.

Mr. Eisen. Tell me about that.

Having just reviewed the footnote, Hicks nevertheless tries to minimize Trump’s concerns. So Philbin asks her to read the footnote again, which leads her to blame all this on Flynn’s spawn setting off a media frenzy that came to incorporate Flynn himself.

Ms. Hicks. I don’t think this was an overall characterization. I think that this was something where he felt like there were a few things that maybe caused him to think that he was capable of being a person who exercised bad judgment.

Mr. Eisen. What were those things?

Mr. Philbin. I’m sorry. Can I again suggest that, since the  question seemed to be based on footnote 155, page 32, Ms. Hicks have a chance to review that footnote?

Ms. Hicks. Yeah. I mean, primarily the comment by President Obama and the incident with General Flynn’s son concerning a fake news story and some of the tweets that were posted surrounding that.

BY MR. EISEN: Q Posted by?

A I believe they were posted by his son, and then it led to reporters also looking back at tweets that General Flynn had posted.

From here, Eisen moves on to the response to David Ignatius’ revelation that the Obama Administration had identified Flynn’s calls with Sergei Kislyak. He establishes that Hicks was on the email thread discussing the response, though she claims she wasn’t involved in the messaging surrounding it.

Q Do you recall David Ignatius writing a column about a Michael Flynn phone conversation with the Russian Ambassador during the transition?

A Yes.

Q And what do you remember about that?

A I don’t remember much about the substance of the column, to be honest, but I remember several email exchanges between the National Security Advisor, General Flynn at the time, and some of his national security staffers, a desire to perhaps have David Ignatius clarify some things in that column, and a failure to do so.

Q Were you involved in the clarification efforts?

A I was on the email thread, so I was following the discussion that ensued, but I was not involved in any kind of message development or outreach to Mr. Ignatius.

Note that the Mueller Report does not mention Hicks at all in its discussion of the Flynn-Kislyak response. In addition to KT McFarland (who called Ignatius to push back), it cites just Reince Priebus and Stephen Miller.

On January 12, 2017, a Washington Post columnist reported that Flynn and Kislyak communicated on the day the Obama Administration announced the Russia sanctions. 122 The column questioned whether Flynn had said something to “undercut the U.S. sanctions” and whether Flynn’s communications had violated the letter or spirit of the Logan Act. 123

President-Elect Trump called Priebus after the story was published and expressed anger about it. 124 Priebus recalled that the President-Elect asked, “What the hell is this all about?”125 Priebus called Flynn and told him that the President-Elect was angry about the reporting on Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak. 126 Flynn recalled that he felt a lot of pressure because Priebus had spoken to the “boss” and said Flynn needed to “kill the story.” 127 Flynn directed McFarland to call the Washington Post columnist and inform him that no discussion of sanctions had occurred. 128 McFarland recalled that Flynn said words to the effect of, “I want to kill the story.” 129 McFarland made the call as Flynn had requested although she knew she was providing false information, and the Washington Post updated the column to reflect that a “Trump official” had denied that Flynn and Kislyak discussed sanctions. 130

When Priebus and other incoming Administration officials questioned Flynn internally about the Washington Post column, Flynn maintained that he had not discussed sanctions with Kislyak.131 Flynn repeated that claim to Vice President-Elect Michael Pence and to incoming press secretary Sean Spicer. 132 In subsequent media interviews in mid-January, Pence, Priebus, and Spicer denied that Flynn and Kislyak had discussed sanctions, basing those denials on their conversations with Flynn. 133

13 1 Flynn 11117/17 302, at I, 8; Flynn 1/19/18 302, at 7; Priebus 10/13/17 302, at 7-8; S. Miller 8/3 I /17 3 02, at 8-1 I.

And that’s interesting because — as Eisen goes on to establish — Hope Hicks learned about the Flynn-Kislyak call at a minimum just days afterwards and (per her initial response) possibly the day it was made.

Q Did you have any advance knowledge of a phone call between Mr. Flynn and the Russian Ambassador that was the subject of this Ignatius reporting?

A I believe I was aware of it the day that it took place. I don’t know if it was before or after. But I recall being at Mar-a-Lago, and Flynn, I think — sorry. Off the record.

[Discussion off the record.]

Ms. Hicks. I think it was afterwards. Perhaps even several days afterwards.

Again, the Mueller Report describes a conversation Flynn had with Steve Bannon in the aftermath of the call, but not Hicks. The Report also mentions a discussion between Flynn and Trump, but Flynn doesn’t “have a specific recollection” of telling Trump about the call.

Flynn recalled discussing the sanctions issue with incoming Administration official Stephen Bannon the next day. 10° Flynn said that Bannon appeared to know about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak, and he and Bannon agreed that they had “stopped the train on Russia’s response” to the sanctions. 101 On January 3, 2017, Flynn saw the President-Elect in person and thought they discussed the Russian reaction to the sanctions, but Flynn did not have a specific recollection of telling the President-Elect about the substance of his calls with Kislyak. 102

And that’s important because, even before Eisen started pursuing these questions, Congressman Steve Cohen had gotten Hicks to admit (after first denying it) that she had knowledge of Russian sanctions that apparently included Trump.

Mr. Cohen. All right. So with all those caveats, before January 20, 2017, did you have any knowledge of any discussions of Russian sanctions?

Ms. Hicks. No.

Mr. Cohen. There was no discussions at all with Mr. Trump and you weren’t privy to them about Russian sanctions that we had issued? You’re sure of that? Think about it.

Ms. Hicks. I am thinking. Thank you. You know, there was — there was a phone call obviously between General Flynn and the Russian ambassador. There was news reports after that where it was unclear what was discussed, but that would have been the only context in which Russian sanctions were brought up in my capacity as communications adviser. [my emphasis]

When Eisen followed up about when Hicks learned that Flynn had lied about sanctions, Hicks claimed to have no recollection of learning that during the transition.

Mr. Eisen. When did you first learn that there was an issue about — if you learned — actually, let me rephrase that question. Did Mr. Flynn talk to you after the column was published about the column?

Mr. Philbin. And we’re still asking —

Mr. Eisen. We’re asking transition. We’re about to come to the post-transition period.

Ms. Hicks. I don’t recall any direct conversations with him, only the email thread that I described.

Mr. Eisen. During the transition, did you develop any additional information about the truth or falsity of anything in the Ignatius column?

Ms. Hicks. Not to my recollection.

Predictably, when Eisen asks about how Hicks came to learn more about this after the Transition, Philbin objected.

Mr. Eisen. What about after the transition?

Mr. Philbin. Objection.

Let me be clear: even with this questioning, the record on what Hicks knew when is inconclusive (and she appears to want to keep it that way). Which may be one reason why Hicks doesn’t appear in any of the discussions in the Mueller Report about this incident, because even Mueller doesn’t find her answers completely credible. As far as is known, she was first interviewed in December 2017, after Flynn’s guilty plea would have made it clear he had relayed some of this, though some FBI interviews that happened the summer before don’t appear in the Mueller Report. So at least given the public record, Hicks would have been able to temper her answers based off what Flynn was known to have admitted in his plea.

The public record certainly sustains a version akin to the public version about Priebus: that he knew about the call to Kislyak in real time, but only came to learn that they talked about sanctions after the FBI interview.

But Hicks’ answers and evasions — and her constant access to Trump — leave open another possibility.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Hope Hicks’ Very Well Lawyered Efforts to Protect Trump

Last week, Hope Hicks sat for a mostly tactical interview with the House Judiciary Committee. Democrats used her testimony to establish a record of just how ridiculous the White House claims to absolutely immunity are by getting her on the record refusing to answer both utterly pertinent questions and innocuous ones, like where her desk in the White House was.

While she dutifully refused — on the orders of White House Counsel — to answer questions about her time in the White House, she actually slipped in two answers: revealing that after Trump had his own people in charge of the Intelligence Community, he “he had greater confidence in their assessments” that Russia hacked the DNC and that she learned of the Letter of Intent to build a Trump Tower Moscow in fall 2017. Those are questions White House lawyers would have otherwise prohibited; I’m not sure how it’ll change the use of this hearing as evidence in the lawsuit to get her to actually testify.

Her answers with regards to the period prior to inauguration reveal what she would (and will) be like if she ever actually testifies. In those exchanges, Hicks comes off like a very well lawyered witness who was willing to shade as aggressively as possible to protect Trump.  That was most obvious in her answers about WikiLeaks, first in response to questions from Sheila Jackson Lee. In that exchange, the press secretary of a presidential campaign claimed not to have a strategy surrounding messaging the campaign engaged in on a daily basis.

Ms. Jackson Lee. I’m going to have one or two questions and — I’ve done it again — one or two questions in a number of different areas. Let me first start with the report. According to the report, by late summer of 2016 the Trump campaign was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign and messaging, based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks. Who was involved in that strategy?

Ms. Hicks. I don’t recall.

Ms. Jackson Lee. I thought you were intimately involved in the campaign.

Ms. Hicks. I was. It’s not something I was aware of.

Ms. Jackson Lee. What about the communications campaign, who was involved there? Do you not recall or do you not know?

Ms. Hicks. To my recollection, it’s not something I was aware of.

[snip]

Ms. Jackson Lee. Who specifically was engaged with the Russian strategy, messaging strategy, post the convention, late summer 2016?

Ms. Hicks. I’m sorry. I don’t understand the question. I’m not aware of a Russian messaging strategy.

Side note: She would later admit that there was a group of people during the Transition responding to allegations of Russian interference and a somewhat different group of people responding to allegations they tried to make contact with Russia. But that covered the Transition and, with the exception of Jason Miller (who deleted his Twitter account the other day after attacking Jerry Nadler), didn’t include communications people.

Back to her exchange with Jackson Lee, who persisted in finding out how the campaign responded to WikiLeaks’ releases. That’s when Hicks described the campaign’s daily focus on optimizing WikiLeaks releases as using publicly available information, even while insisting it was not part of a strategy.

Ms. Jackson Lee. So specifically it goes to the release of the various WikiLeaks information. Who was engaged in that?

Ms. Hicks. So, I mean, I assume you’re talking about late July?

Ms. Jackson Lee. Late July, late summer, July, August 2016.

Ms. Hicks. So there were several people involved. It was — I think a “strategy” is a wildly generous term to describe the use of that information, but —

Ms. Jackson Lee. But you were engaged in the campaign. What names, what specific persons were involved in that strategy of the impact of Russia and the issuance of the WikiLeaks effort late summer?

Ms. Hicks. Again, you —

Ms. Jackson Lee. Were you involved? Were you part of the strategy? You have a communications emphasis.

Ms. Hicks. I’m sorry. I’m just not understanding the question. You’re talking about a Russian strategy. The campaign didn’t have a Russian strategy. There was an effort made by the campaign to use information that was publicly available, but I’m not aware of a Russian strategy, communications or otherwise.

Ms. Jackson Lee. Well, what names were engaged in the strategy that you remember, messaging based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks, which is what I said?

Ms. Hicks. Sorry. I’d like to confer with my counsel. Thanks.

Ms. Jackson Lee. Thank you.

[snip]

Ms. Jackson Lee. Yes. I’m going to read from my earlier comment. According to the report, by late summer of 2016 the Trump campaign was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign, and messaging based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks, volume 1, 54. Were you involved in deciding how the campaign would respond to press questions about WikiLeaks?

Ms. Hicks. I assume that I was. I have no recollection of the specifics that you’re raising here.

Ms. Jackson Lee. With that in mind, would you agree that the campaign benefited from the hacked information on Hillary Clinton?

Ms. Hicks. This was publicly available information.

Ms. Jackson Lee. Were you — would you agree that the campaign benefited from the hacked information on Hillary Clinton?

Ms. Hicks. I don’t know what the direct impact was of the utilization of that information.

Ms. Jackson Lee. Well, let me follow up with, did this information help you attack the opponent of Mr. Trump?

Ms. Hicks. I take issue with the phrase “attack.” I think it allowed the campaign to discuss things that would not otherwise be known but that were true.

Hicks never did answer Jackson Lee’s question about how the campaign optimized the releases, but Norm Eisen (who was hired for precisely this purpose) came back to it. Ultimately Hicks described integrating WikiLeaks releases into Trump speeches.

Q Okay. Ms. Hicks, you were asked by Ms. Jackson Lee about a statement in the Mueller report that by late summer of 2016 the Trump campaign was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign, and messaging based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks, and you answered to the effect that it was wildly inaccurate to call it a strategy. Do you remember that answer?

A I believe I said that I wasn’t aware of any kind of coordinated strategy like the one described in the report and quoted by Ms. Jackson Lee. Regardless, the efforts that were under way, to take publicly available information and use that to show a differentiation between Mr. Trump as a candidate and Mrs. Clinton as a candidate, I would say that it would be wildly generous to describe that as a coordinated strategy.

Q How would you describe it? A I would describe it just as I did, which is taking publicly available information to draw a contrast between the candidates.

Q What do you remember about any specific occasions when that was discussed?

[snip]

Q Tell me what you remember, everything you remember about that.

A The things I remember would be just the days that — that news was made, right? That there was a new headline based on new information that was available, and how to either incorporate that into a speech or make sure that our surrogates were aware of that information and to utilize it as talking points in any media availabilities, interviews, and what other opportunities there might be to, again, emphasize the contrast between candidates.

Q Did you ever discuss that with Mr. Trump during the campaign?

A Again, I don’t recall a — I don’t recall discussions about a coordinated strategy. But more specifically, to your last point about when there were moments that allowed for us to capitalize on new information being distributed, certainly I’m sure I had discussions with him.

She would go on to admit that the communications team discussed the WikiLeaks releases on a daily basis. But she maintained that — in spite of the evidence that Trump, with whom she spent extensive amounts of time, knew of the emails ahead of time — she did not

EISEN When is the first that you remember learning that WikiLeaks might have documents relevant to the Clinton campaign? A Whenever it became publicly available. I think my first recollection is just prior to the DNC Convention. Q And what was your reaction when you learned that?

A I don’t recall. I think before I described a general feeling surrounding this topic of not happiness, but a little bit of relief maybe that other campaigns had obstacles to face as well.

Q And I know we’ve touched on this but I just want to make sure we get it into the record. What’s your first recollection of discussing this issue with Mr. Trump?

Eisen did get her to admit that Eric Trump sent her the oppo research file on his father, though she claimed to be uncertain about when that happened. Once again, when asked a substantive question about something embarrassing to Trump, she conferred with her lawyer, Robert Trout, before answering.

Q And did Eric Trump ever discuss anything relating to WikiLeaks or other releases of hacked information with you? A May I confer with my counsel, please.

[Discussion off the record.]

Ms. Hicks. Can you repeat the question, please?

Mr. Eisen. Can I have the court reporter read back the question, please?

Reporter. Did Eric Trump ever discuss anything relating to WikiLeaks or other releases of hacked information with you?

Ms. Hicks. I believe I received an email from Eric or some written communication regarding an opposition research file that was, I guess, leaked on the internet. I believe it was publicly available when he sent it to me. It was about Donald Trump.

BY MR. EISEN: Q And do you know if it was publicly available when he sent it to you?

A I don’t recall. That’s my recollection.

Q What’s the basis for your belief that it was publicly available?

A I believe there was a link that was included, and I was able to click on that and access the information.

Q How did he transmit that to you?

A I don’t remember if it was an email or a text message.

Q Was there also a document attached to that transmission?

A I don’t remember.

Q Do you remember the date?

A Spring of 2016.

Q Spring of 2016.

Note, the oppo file was first released publicly on June 15, 2016. That’s still spring, but barely.

In any case, while most of the coverage has focused on the White House efforts to prevent Hicks from answering questions, her responses on WikiLeaks make it clear she herself was unwilling to answer basic questions as well.

Which is why this exchange about the Joint Defense Agreement as part of which her attorney got paid half a million dollars by the RNC is telling.

Ms. Scanlon. Okay. Do you now or have you had any joint defense agreements with anyone in connection with your activities either during the campaign or since then?

Mr. Trout. Objection.

Ms. Hicks. Be privileged with my counsel.

Mr. Trout. I’m not going to answer that.

Ms. Scanlon. I believe you’re not going to answer, but is she going to answer it?

Mr. Trout. No.

Ms. Scanlon. Okay. On what basis?

Mr. Trout. On privilege.

Ms. Scanlon. What kind of privilege.

Mr. Trout. Joint defense privilege.

Ms. Scanlon. The fact of having a joint defense agreement is not —

Mr. Trout. I will — it will be privileged

Hicks is absolutely entitled to keep details of her legal representation secret. But this — like some of the questions she refused to answer about her time in the White House — is public information. As such, her non-responsiveness about the degree to which she has compared answers with Trump is as obvious an obstruction tactic as the White House absolute immunity effort.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Trump Is Willing to Pay for Joint Defense for Hope Hicks, But Not for France

As I laid out last week, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

I keep coming back to this exchange between Dana Bash and Rudy Giuliani over the weekend.

BASH:  But let’s just focus on one of the things that you said…

GIULIANI: Go.

BASH: … that there is no evidence — you say that the special counsel hasn’t produced evidence.

But they haven’t said that they have no evidence. They have — you say that there have been leaks. They have been remarkably tight-lipped, aside from what they have had to do with indictments and such.

GIULIANI: No, they haven’t. They leaked reports. They leaked reports. They leaked meetings. They’re leaking on Manafort right now. They leaked Cohen before it happened.

BASH: But this is an ongoing investigation. We don’t really know what they have and what they don’t have. That’s fair, right?

GIULIANI: Well, I have a pretty good idea because I have seen all the documents that they have. We have debriefed all their witnesses. And we have pressed them numerous times.

BASH: You have debriefed all of their witnesses?

GIULIANI: Well, I think so, I mean, the ones that were — the ones that were involved in the joint defense agreement, which constitutes all the critical ones.

They have nothing, Dana. They wouldn’t be pressing for this interview if they had anything. [my emphasis]

Rudy asserts that every critical witness is a member of a Joint Defense Agreement involving Trump.

That’s a big Joint Defense Agreement. It also suggests that if Mueller can learn who is in it, he’s got a map of everyone that Trump himself thinks was involved in the conspiracy with Russia.

Some people will be obvious — not least, because they share lawyers. Witnesses with shared lawyers include:

Erik Prince, Sam Clovis, Mark Corallo (represented by Victoria Toensing)

Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, Don McGahn (represented by William Burck)

Don Jr, Rhona Graff (represented by Trump Organization lawyer Alan Futerfas)

Almost certainly, it includes the key witnesses who’ve been moved onto various parts of the Reelection campaign, including 2020 convention security head Keith Schiller (represented by Stuart Sears) and Brad Parscale (defense attorney unknown).

Others are obvious because we know they’re centrally involved — people like Jared Kushner (represented by Abbe Lowell) and Hope Hicks (represented by Robert Trout). Indeed, Hicks may also fall into the category of shared lawyers — at least from the same firm — as Trout Cacheris & Janis got paid $451,779 by the RNC in April for representing Hope and two other witnesses.

One implication from this (which would be unbelievable, if true) is that Paul Manafort remains a part of the Joint Defense Agreement. But that is the only way that Trump can assess his vulnerability — as he has in the past, and appears to have shared with the Russians — to go exclusively through Manafort.

There are other implications of claiming that every critical witness is part of the Joint Defense Agreement — including that the Attorney General (represented by Iran-Contra escape artist lawyer Charles Cooper) must be part of it too. So, too, must Stephen Miller (defense attorney unknown).

But here’s the really telling thing. A key part of Trump’s foreign policy — one he’ll be focusing on relentlessly in advance of next week’s NATO summit — is that other members of the United States’ alliances are freeloaders. He’s demanding that NATO members all start paying their own way for our mutual defense.

But Trump is willing to make sure that those protecting him get paid (even if he’s not willing to pay himself). (I stole this observation from an interlocutor on Twitter.)

Which is saying something about what Trump is willing to do when he, himself, is at risk.