Former Trump legal team spokesman Mark Corallo – who allegedly quit his job amidst fears he might be witness to an effort to obstruct justice – spoke with ABC News for its "The Investigation" podcast and described what he experienced as President Trump and Hope Hicks decided what to tell the media about Donald Trump Jr.'s June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya and others.
The [New York] Times reached out to the White House in early July, while Trump was traveling back from Europe. The newspaper first reported that the meeting had taken place, later revealing the email chain in which Trump Jr. embraces the help of the Russian government.
In response to the Times’s initial outreach as it prepared its first story, two different responses were offered from Trump’s team. The first was drafted by Trump himself and given to the Times; it claimed that the Trump Tower meeting was “a short introductory meeting” predicated on the issue of adoption. (Trump said later that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had discussed adoption when they met during Trump’s Europe visit. The issue is linked to sanctions imposed against Putin and Russia by President Barack Obama’s administration.)
The second was given by Corallo to Circa.
"We have learned from both our own investigation and public reports that the participants in the meeting misrepresented who they were and who they worked for,” Corallo’s statement said, connecting the Russian attorney to the firm Fusion GPS, which had also been involved in compiling the dossier of reports alleging collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Trump and Hicks were very angry about that second statement, Corallo told ABC.
From the podcast transcript:
CORALLO: Sure. So, on that evening when I sort of - I think it was like July 8th or something. My phone starts going off the hook, because I guess the New York Times is breaking the story, and we didn't even know the New York Times was following the story, which is a whole other story. Any rate. And then my phone rings and it's Hope Hicks. So, she just started laying into me. And, then she admitted that yes, they had crafted this statement on Air Force One and that they'd handled it. You know, she said, I had the New York Times handled and I'm going - you did? You work in the White House. This is a private matter. This is not the president's conduct of his office. This is matters to do with him as a private citizen, really, not even him. This has to do with his son, son in law, and former campaign director. So, so I just I listened to her yell and then I said well you know you've probably made yourself a witness in a federal criminal investigation. Way to go, young lady. The next day I was home and the phone rings again. And it's the White House. I'd pick it up and it’s Hope. And she says you know hold for a moment for the president. Oh. Great. Now, they're both going to rip into me, so they both start to sort of lay into me and he's laying into me for, for you know who approved this statement. I said, "Mr. President please talk to your lawyers about this. Don't talk to me about this. Talk to your lawyers." You know, I was very aware that there were no lawyers on that conversation, on the phone. A bedrock principle of our legal system is the attorney client privilege. And I was just very aware that without an attorney on the phone, there was no privilege not to mention the fact, that there was no executive privilege because I don't work for the White House.
MOSK: So, when you talk about recklessness you're talking about situations like this where they are creating risk unnecessarily?
CORALLO: They are creating risk unnecessarily. The idea that a 20-something press aide would put the president of the United States on the phone to talk about a federal criminal investigation, without his attorneys on the phone, to protect the privilege and that the president wasn't aware of it was just astounding to me. And terrifying. And I just pointed out that the statement that they put out on Air Force One or from Air Force One was inaccurate. That this was not going to go away. And because it was inaccurate, an inaccurate statement - it was only going to inflame the story over the next few days and eventually the New York Times and every other, you know, media outlet was going to get the truth and then they were going to look, well, the way they did. Like they were trying to hide something.
VLASTO: And made the Mueller Investigation blow up after that
VLASTO: That was the fuse.
CORALLO: Yeah and so I pointed out that the statement was inaccurate and that there were documents, that I understood there were documents that would prove that. Hope Hicks replied to me when I, when I said look there are you know there are documents. She said, well nobody's ever going to see those documents. Which you know made my throat dry up immediately. And I just - at that point I just said, Mr. President we can't talk about this anymore. You got to talk to your lawyers. And for me, it was just the fact that she was even A. that you would say something like that in the presence of the president the United States. That you would not be aware that that could be construed as obstruction. Right? The threat to withhold documents? Like what does that mean that no one's ever going to see them? What are you gonna destroy them? She showed a complete lack of understanding of the situation and was completely in over her head.
VLSATO: Right. But it's not criminal, but it goes back to what you were saying before.
CORALLO: Right. It’s not, it’s not.
VLASTO: Sometimes you have to show criminal intent.
CORALLO: Right. I wasn't really worried as much about the stakes in a criminal investigation. I was more worried about a potential impeachment down the road. And, you know, that's the kind of thing that definitely goes to, you know, impeachable offenses. If you're going to, if you're going to charge impeachable offenses in articles of impeachment. Those are the kinds of stories that come up.
MOSK: And this I assume came up in your interview with the special counsel?
CORALLO: Yeah. Oh absolutely. They wanted to know, and they asked me, and they said well you know Miss Hicks says that that didn't happen. And they asked me how sure I was, and I said 100 percent. You know, I mean look - this was, you know, again I've used the word reckless over and over again. It was reckless.
Corallo chalks up Hicks' behavior to inexperience and naiveté.
Corallo had far more experience in handling political communications than Hicks or Trump. He described what he saw as their intent in offering Trump Jr.'s misleading statement.
“We can kill this in one day, it’s going to be a one-day story,” Corallo said, “and you know which led to me laughing at people thinking, Oh, sure, that’s a one-day story.”
But, again, Corallo suggested that this lack of sophistication may have been their salvation.
“I think that Bob Mueller realized that these were just people who were naive,” he said.