Politics

The Breakout Star of the Mueller Report

By her own account, Hope Hicks was a voice of reason in the Trump administration. Should we trust her?

Donald Trump and Hope Hicks stand outside the White House.
Donald Trump and Hope Hicks at the White House on March 29, 2018.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Hope Hicks has long been one of Trump World’s greatest mysteries. She had never so much as volunteered for a political candidate when Donald Trump tapped her, at age 26, to be his campaign’s press secretary in 2015. At the time, she seemed like the ne plus ultra of a Trump hire: a young, glamorous model who worked for his daughter’s clothing company. It wasn’t hard to see why Trump picked her. It was hard to imagine why a woman with no obvious ideological ax to grind would stunt her nascent career in public relations by signing on with a PR disaster.

After the release of a redacted version of Robert Mueller’s special counsel report on Thursday, it’s gotten a lot easier to comprehend Hicks’ motives. She emerged as a somewhat unexpected breakout star of the report, a candid source for investigators who shed light on the president’s unwillingness to take his aides’ advice and confront inevitable consequences. The Hicks of the Mueller report is a capable PR professional who tried her darnedest to protect her boss from his worst impulses, advocated for him when appropriate, and ultimately stood on the side of truth and decency.

At least, that’s according to Hicks. The anecdotes that make Hicks look adept and intelligent all come from the same source: Hope Hicks.

There are at least two instances where Hicks recounted for investigators—with no corroborating accounts from anyone else—how hard she worked to get Trump to stop saying obstruction-y things to the press. After Trump hinted in a pre-taped interview with Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo that he might ask James Comey to resign his FBI post, Hicks claims to have told him they should have Fox remove the quote from the final broadcast version. “But the President wanted to keep it in, which Hicks thought was unusual,” the report says. A few months later, Trump gave an “unplanned interview” to the New York Times, in which he badmouthed then–Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Here’s how the report says it went down: “Hicks, who was present for the interview, recalled trying to ‘throw [herself) between the reporters and [the President]’ to stop parts of the interview, but the President ‘loved the interview.’ ”

What an American, making a human wall of herself to preserve the integrity of the special counsel’s investigation! What a communications director, pulling a Secret Service–taking-a-bullet move to prevent her client from making a fool, or criminal, of himself!

There’s nothing to suggest Hicks didn’t take these smart (if no-brainer) steps in the course of her duties. But the Hicks who emerges in these anecdotes only bears responsibility for the heroic behind-the-scenes efforts to contain Trump, not any of the bad stuff she surely commended, ignored, or egged him on to do. During Trump’s campaign and presidency, Hicks was one of the few people trusted with helping craft Trump’s tweets, which have famously bullied private citizens, fomented hate for Muslims and immigrants, made sexist cracks at women who criticized him, and edged the country closer to a nuclear showdown. According to one Trump campaign official, some of Trump’s most merciless Twitter insults have come from Hicks’ keyboard.

The Mueller report does contain one challenge to Hicks’ glowing account of her own tenure. It concerns a conversation in summer 2017, when Hicks made a valiant effort to get Trump to understand the potential damage that could be inflicted by the emails setting up a June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr., other campaign staffers, and a Kremlin-linked attorney. Hicks “recalled being shocked by the emails,” and tried to convince Trump to release them before they could leak and suggested arranging a “softball interview” with Trump Jr. Hicks says, per the report, that she was stymied by Trump, who was convinced the emails would never leak and wanted to keep them private.

Here, Hicks sounds like a solid crisis communications strategist who wants to show the public that Trump and his family have nothing to hide. And her story may be true. But another Trump staffer contradicts her account. Former Trump legal team spokesman Mark Corallo produced notes for investigators from a conversation he had with Hicks and Trump after the New York Times ran a piece on the Trump Tower meeting. Regarding the emails Hicks said she tried to get Trump to release, Corallo wrote, “Hope says ‘only a few people have [them]. [They] will never get out.’ ” Hicks told investigators she didn’t remember saying that—or maybe she did, and she was simply “channeling the President.”

The Mueller report has given Hicks and her former colleagues the opportunity to write themselves into the first draft of the Trump chapter of U.S. history, and no one’s compiled a better press release for themselves than Hicks. In talking to investigators, she studiously followed the advice she says she gave Trump: She got out ahead of the story and set her own narrative before anyone else could define her time in the administration. The parts of Hicks’ story that might reflect poorly on her character—her admission to House investigators that she’s told “white lies” for Trump, for instance—don’t make it into the Mueller report. Those aspects of her narrative will now be buried under this substantive and politically powerful document. Hicks’ accounts of trying to protect Trump from himself speak volumes about her PR acumen. Her ability to shovel those accounts into a widely read and highly trusted public record says even more.