How Hope Hicks Again Destroyed The Trump-Russia Collusion Narrative
Following the Thursday release of the transcript from Hope Hicks’s testimony before the Democrat-controlled House Judiciary Committee, the media quickly concentrated on the questions Trump’s former communications director refused to answer. But while the press portrayed Hicks’s silence as all-inclusive, in reality Hicks testified at length and in detail about all aspects of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. And that testimony established yet again that the Russia collusion narrative was a hoax.
“I’m telling you,” Hicks testified, “I wasn’t aware in the campaign of any contacts with Russian officials.” Later, when asked again what, if any, communications and contacts there were between the Trump campaign and Russian or Russian officials, Hicks noted that during the campaign she wasn’t aware of any but later learned of insignificant contacts, such as Jeff Sessions meeting the Russian ambassador at a foreign policy speech.
Hicks further testified that a Russian official’s post-election comment that Russia was “in constant communication or constant contact with members of Trump’s inner circle throughout the campaign,” “was not true.” “I’m not aware of anybody that regularly interacted with Mr. Trump that was a decisionmaker that advised him on a frequent basis that had, ‘regular contacts’ with any Russian officials,” Hicks stressed.
Hicks, who had previously worked for the Trump organization, also testified that she was not aware of any financial ties between Russia and the Trump Organization during the campaign. Nor did Hicks have any knowledge of any “foreign government providing cash or any other thing of value to Mr. Trump during the campaign,” or of any conversations during the campaign about Trump traveling to Russia (other than for the Miss Universe Pageant), or meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Hicks further told the committee that she only “became aware that the Russian government was attempting to interfere in the 2016 elections” when the story hit the press.
Nothing on the DNC Hack Or Trump Tower
Democrats on the committee nonetheless pushed the Russia collusion narrative by attempting to portray an email Hicks received from the editor-in-chief of the Russian internet newspaper Vzglyad as evidence of a Russian conspiracy. Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse flipped to the much-referenced Robert Mueller report to read the special counsel’s finding that “one day earlier the publication’s founder and former Russian parliamentarian Konstantin Rykov had registered two Russian websites, Trump2016.ru and DonaldTrump2016.ru.”
But Neguse’s attempt to implicate the Trump campaign in Russia’s online efforts to interfere in the election failed badly. “I don’t recall receiving the interview request,” Hicks noted, “I received hundreds of interview requests, sometimes daily.” Because Trump had no intention of participating in the interview, Hicks explained, she was not concerned about the identity of the outlet, and hadn’t even realized until after the fact that the email had come from a Russian.
Concerning the WikiLeaks hacks, Hicks made clear that the only discussion the campaign had was “speculation about if there would be more emails or information released, but that was prompted by things in the media,” and it wasn’t with certainty that more leaks would happen, but “with speculation and skepticism.”
“No,” Hicks stressed, Trump did not talk about WikiLeaks or the hack, nor did anybody else in the campaign, other than what was discussed in the public domain. Hicks also testified that during the campaign she had heard nothing about Roger Stone and his supposed relationship with WikiLeaks or its founder Julian Assange, or about WikiLeaks’ “divulgence of information about the emails of Hillary Clinton and Mr. Podesta,” beyond media coverage.
In short, Hicks stated that during the campaign, Trump never indicated that he knew ahead of time that WikiLeaks was responsible for the Democratic National Committee hacks or that he had knowledge that additional information would be released. Hicks also confirmed that before the election she had not been told that anyone at the Trump campaign had been offered information about Hillary Clinton.
The Trump Tower meeting was another focus of committee questions: Hicks told the committee that she did not know about the Trump Tower meeting or Donald Trump Jr.’s emails about that meeting until after Trump was elected president. She had also never heard “any discussion from any Trump Organization employee or Mr. Trump about an ongoing effort to pursue a potential Trump Tower Moscow at that time,” another thread weaved into the Russia collusion hoax.
Hick’s responses during last week’s hearing also provided fresh insight into Trump’s behind-the-scenes response to news of Russian interference. Hicks noted that the campaign only “became aware that the Russian government was attempting to interfere in the 2016 elections” when the story hit the press. The president’s former confidant added that any conversations she was privy to during the campaign concerning Russia interference in the election mirrored what Trump said publicly.
The Trump Collusion Narrative Is a Red Herring
Then, when asked what specifically Trump said during the campaign about public reports that his team was coordinating with Russia, Hicks relayed that Trump called it “nonsense.” Trump believed that the Russia collusion conspiracy “was something that the Clinton campaign had made up to deflect from the information that they viewed as harmful to their candidate, to their campaign,” Hicks explained.
Hicks also testified that she agreed with his assessment and that the “unsubstantiated claims that [the Trump campaign] were coordinating with Russia was an attempt to distract and deflect.” The former communications director added that the Trump campaign obviously knew there was no collusion, but admitted that had she been working instead for the Clinton campaign, she “probably would have taken a similar strategy.” Hicks further noted that, whether the Russia collusion hoax was being peddled by the “Clinton campaign or speculated about in the media,” her discussions with candidate Trump focused on how to respond to the false claims.
Hicks also shared details of her conversation with Trump following his late-July 2016 off-the-cuff remark: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Hicks explained that she informed Trump that “some in the media had taken the expression quite literally, and that they were concerned he was encouraging foreign governments to, you know, locate those emails, and that that was obviously something that the media felt was extremely inappropriate and demanded a response from Mr. Trump and the campaign as to what exactly he meant by that.”
Hicks stated that, “both from Trump’s remark and her discussion with him after,” she understood the comment as a joke. When pushed about what Trump had said, Hicks conveyed that he noted “it was intended as a light-hearted comment.”
Trump Was Concerned About Paul Manafort
In practice, however, Trump took concerns about Russia’s meddling seriously, Hicks explained. For instance, according to Hicks, after the media began questioning Trump’s campaign chair, Paul Manafort, Trump, not realizing Manafort’s close relationship with Richard Gates, asked Gates to keep an eye on Manafort.
Trump questioned some of Manafort’s “past work with other foreign governments, foreign campaigns,” and stressed that “none of that would be appropriate to be ongoing during his service with the Trump campaign,” Hicks elaborated. He also asked Gates to let him know “if anything led him to believe that was ongoing.”
When, following Trump’s election, then-President Barack Obama raised questions about Michael Flynn to Trump, Hicks explained that warning tainted Trump’s view of Flynn going forward. Trump “was a bit bewildered that, you know, of all the things that the two of them could have been discussing,” it was Flynn that came up. (This detail also raises the question of Obama’s motivation and his efforts to sour the president-elect’s relationship with Flynn.)
Hicks’ testimony also negated several other Democratic and media talking points on Russia interference and collusion. While Democrats attempted to portray Trump as unperturbed by Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, Hicks countered, “I think he was concerned, but I think he was simultaneously concerned that folks with a political agenda were going to weaponize that assessment to try to undermine the legitimacy of this election.”
Misrepresenting the Truth for Political Gain
“In 2008, Donald Trump, Jr., was quoted as saying ‘In terms of high-end product influx into the U.S., Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia,’” Lieu quoted to Hicks. Hicks acknowledged that she had spoken with Trump Jr., about this statement, but only to ensure “the media wasn’t misrepresenting the remark or presenting it in any misleading way.”
“And how was the media mischaracterizing Donald Trump, Jr.’s remarks?” Lieu quizzed. The media “made it seem like there was Russian money coming into the Trump Organization in a way that was inappropriate or somehow sinister,” when Trump Jr., was merely “describing the kinds of clientele that were purchasing luxury apartments, both in New York City, Chicago, and in South Florida.”
“They’re a luxury, globally recognized real estate company,” Hick explained, so “it would be odd if [the Trump Organization] weren’t selling to people just because they’re affiliated with Russia.”
By the end of her nearly eight hours of testimony last week, Hicks obliterated many of the Russia-collusion talking points pushed by Democrats and the media for the last three years, even more expertly than Mueller did in his special counsel report. As one Democrat noted during the hearing, Hicks was “with [Trump] every day,” during both the primary and general election. She would have known had the campaign colluded with Russia.
Yet her testimony made clear there was no Russia strategy, significant contact, collaboration, or collusion, which is why when Hicks was asked whether she thought the president “might be angry about [her] testifying before Congress today,” her ready reply punctuated her significant—but unreported—testimony: “I think the president knows that I would tell the truth, and the truth is there was no collusion. And I’m happy to say that as many times as is necessary today.”
Margot Cleveland is a senior contributor to The Federalist. Cleveland served nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk to a federal appellate judge and is a former full-time faculty member and current adjunct instructor at the college of business at the University of Notre Dame.
The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.