- Mark Corallo, the former spokesman of President Donald Trump’s legal team, plans to tell the special counsel Robert Mueller that a key White House aide may have sought to obstruct justice last year.
- According to The New York Times, Corallo plans to describe a conference call with the White House communications director, Hope Hicks, and Trump last year in which Hicks may have hinted at concealing crucial emails that are relevant to the Russia investigation.
- The emails were related to a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, between several Russia-linked individuals and members of the Trump campaign, that is under heavy scrutiny from Mueller and congressional investigators.
Mark Corallo, the former spokesman for President Donald Trump’s legal team, plans to tell the special counsel Robert Mueller that the White House communications director, Hope Hicks, may have hinted at concealing crucial emails that were exchanged before Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting in June 2016 with a Kremlin-connected lawyer, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
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 in the next two weeks.
Corallo served as the legal team spokesman until July of last year. He resigned shortly after news of Trump Jr.’s Russia meeting emerged.
The meeting, as well as Trump’s apparent 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 revised when it emerged that Trump Jr. accepted the meeting with the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya after he was offered damaging information on Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. The New York Times later published a chain of bombshell emails indicating 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 told Corallo and Trump during a conference call last July 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, meaning the conversation was not subject to attorney-client privilege.
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 whom the special counsel was interested in speaking with. She was interviewed by Mueller’s team in early December.
Hicks has long been one of Trump’s closest confidantes, 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 strategising about the statement shortly after the paper sent a list of 14 questions about the meeting on July 8 of last year. 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 said.
Trump Jr. had insisted that the statement include the word, “primarily,” The Times said.
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 James Comey as FBI director in May. Comey was leading 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 was most 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,” the 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 people 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,” the former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Cramer said. “That focus seems to be on the president and his son.”
He added that the statement by itself did not prove obstruction and that it was 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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