She built a national reputation as the elusive public relations force behind President Donald Trump’s campaign and administration, but Hope Hicks couldn’t save the President from himself on Air Force One in July of 2017.
Though she rarely spoke on the record and almost never appeared before cameras, her candid account under oath of her deliberations with Trump as they sought to spin the story about Donald Trump Jr.’s June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting with Russians paints an in-depth portrait of the challenges of working for Trump – and getting him to heed advice.
“I think that’s right, too, but boss man worried it invites a lot of questions,” she said in a text message to Trump Jr. at one point on the flight home from the G20 Summit in Germany, according to special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report released Thursday.
The White House repeatedly said the President was not involved with the crafting of his son’s statement, which he in fact dictated, but Hicks’ testimony to the special counsel’s team, which took place in December 2017 and March 2018, offers an in-depth account of her repeated efforts to counsel the President on a communications strategy regarding the existence of emails documenting his son’s summer 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer and Hicks’ attempt to convince him to proactively release emails about the meeting.
Hicks, whom Trump calls “Hopey,” was one of his original campaign staffers before joining him at the White House. She has long been considered one of his most loyal defenders, working almost entirely behind-the-scenes.
Her journey to the White House began when she was a PR staffer working with Ivanka Trump’s clothing line. After a whirlwind rise to the top communications post at the White House, she announced her resignation in late February 2018, and recently moved to California to begin a new role as executive vice president and chief communications officer at FOX.
According to the special counsel’s report, the President’s personal legal team learned of emails about the June 9, 2016, meeting in June of 2017.
Hicks told Mueller’s team that she attended a meeting in the White House residence with the President, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, on or about June 22, 2017, to discuss how to best handle the emails.
“Kushner brought a folder of documents to the meeting and tried to show them to the President, but the President stopped Kushner and said he did not want to know about it, shutting the conversation down,” per the report.
Hicks read the emails herself on June 28, 2017, the report said, and voiced her concerns with the President on June 29. She told the special counsel’s office she was shocked by the emails, saying in her March 2018 testimony they looked “really bad.”
“The President seemed upset because too many people knew about the emails and he told Hicks that just one lawyer should deal with the matter. The President indicated that he did not think the emails would leak, but said they would leak if everyone had access to them,” the report said, noting that Kushner, Hicks, and Ivanka Trump spoke in detail to the President, with Hicks and Josh Raffel – who served as a White House spokesman for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner – encouraging a proactive strategy to release the emails, which the President shot down.
Hicks learned The New York Times was working on a story about the meeting, and the President told her not to comment.
“Hicks thought the President’s reaction was odd because he usually considered not responding to the press to be the ultimate sin,” the report said.
Known for her understanding of Trump’s unorthodox communications style and working habits, she differentiated herself amongst aides for her strong relationship with Trump. Hicks and Trump spoke again and she was able to convince him to give the Times a statement.
Per the report, during her testimony: “Hicks recalled that the President asked her what the meeting had been about, and she said that she had been told the meeting was about Russian adoption. The President responded, ‘then just say that.’ “
On the flight home from the G20 Summit, Hicks brought Trump a draft of the statement that included the detail in the emails that there was the potential for helpful information to the campaign from the Russians.
“Hicks again wanted to disclose the entire story, but the President directed that the statement not be issued because it said too much. The President told Hicks to say only that Trump Jr. took a brief meeting and it was about Russian adoption,” per the report.
Hicks texted Trump Jr. an edited statement and they exchanged texts, according to the report:
“Hicks’s text concluded, ‘Are you ok with this? Attributed to you.’
“Trump Jr. responded by text message that he wanted to add the word ‘primarily’ before ‘discussed’ so that the statement would read, ‘We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children.’ Trump Jr. texted that he wanted the change because ‘[t]hey started with some Hillary thing which was bs and some other nonsense which we shot down fast.’
“Hicks texted back, ‘I think that’s right too but boss man worried it invites a lot of questions[.) [U]ltimately [d]efer to you and [your attorney] on that word Bc I know it’s important and I think the mention of a campaign issue adds something to it in case we have to go further.’
“Trump Jr. responded, ‘lf l don’t have it in there it appears as though I’m lying later when they inevitably leaksomething.’
Hicks again talked to the President on the Air Force One flight.
“Hicks recalled again going to the President to urge him that they should be fully transparent about the June 9 meeting, but he again said no, telling Hicks, ‘You’ve given a statement. We’re done,’ ” the report said.
This is the July 8, 2017, statement to the Times, as attributed to Donald Trump Jr.:
“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.”
The Times published its story about the meeting before the flight landed.
Ultimately, Hicks’ strategy was proven right: reports of the emails came out and Trump Jr. was forced to issue a second statement.
The President’s son released the second statement on July 9, acknowledging that he was told the Russian had information about Clinton, and ultimately released his email communications with Rob Goldstone about the meeting on July 11, 2017.