NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s former spokesperson Hope Hicks met Monday with Manhattan prosecutors who are investigating hush-money payments made to women on the ex-president’s behalf — the latest member of the Republican's inner circle to be questioned in the renewed probe.
Hicks and her lawyer, Robert Trout, spent several hours inside the Manhattan district attorney’s office and, afterward, were seen walking to a waiting SUV. They didn't say anything to reporters as they got in the vehicle.
Trout declined comment. The district attorney’s office also declined comment and would not confirm prosecutors interviewed Hicks, who was previously questioned in 2018 by federal prosecutors who looked into the same conduct.
Hicks served as Trump’s 2016 campaign press secretary and spoke with Trump by phone during a frenzied effort to keep his alleged affairs out of the press in the final weeks before the election, according to court records from the federal probe. Hicks later held various roles in his White House, including communications director.
Last week, prosecutors questioned Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who arranged payments to two women, and Trump’s former political adviser Kellyanne Conway.
After his session last Friday, Cohen told reporters that the probe is “really progressing." He said he expects to testify soon before a grand jury that's been hearing evidence since January.
“The level of specificity to which they are attacking the various issues is extraordinary," said Cohen, adding that he's met with prosecutors 18 times through several iterations of the probe.
Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal charges including campaign finance violations for arranging the payouts to porn actor Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal to keep them from going public. Trump has denied the affairs.
Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 through his own company and was then reimbursed by Trump, whose company logged the reimbursements as “legal expenses.” McDougal’s $150,000 payment was made through the publisher of the supermarket tabloid the National Enquirer, which squelched her story in a journalistically dubious practice known as “catch-and-kill.”
According to court records from the federal investigation, Hicks spoke for several minutes by phone with Trump and Cohen on Oct. 8, 2016, the day after the release of the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump boasted in graphic detail about grabbing women’s genitals.
Cohen, concerned that the campaign would be irreparably damaged by stories about Trump’s alleged affairs, then spoke with top executives at the National Enquirer before calling Trump, according to the records. Cohen then phoned Trump again at 8:03 p.m. and spoke to him for eight minutes, followed by more calls, and text messages involving Cohen and a National Enquirer executive.
The hush-money payment to McDougal remained secret until days before the election, when The Wall Street Journal published a story about it. Court records show that Cohen and Hicks expressed relief to each other that the story did not receive the attention they feared it would.
“So far I see only 6 stories. Getting little to no traction,” Cohen texted, according to the records.
“Same. Keep praying!! It’s working!” Hicks responded.
Last year, Hicks was interviewed by the House Jan. 6 committee, telling the panel that Trump told her that no one would care about his legacy if he lost the 2020 election. She told the committee that Trump told her, “The only thing that matters is winning.”
Hicks was also a key witness in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and provided important information about Trump’s attempts to obstruct that investigation.
As for the hush-money probe, the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan decided not to prosecute Trump personally over the payments. The Manhattan district attorney’s office then began investigating the payments to see if any state laws were broken.
No charges were brought against Trump during the tenure of former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who shifted the probe’s focus to the Trump Organization’s business practices. The company was convicted in December of tax fraud and fined $1.6 million.
The current district attorney, Alvin Bragg, has shown renewed interest in pursuing more charges, possibly against Trump himself. Doing so would be unprecedented. No former president has ever been charged with a crime.
Conway's lawyer didn’t respond to multiple messages about her meeting last week with prosecutors, which was first reported by The New York Times.
Trump's lawyers have said that the payments to the two women broke no laws. Trump says the investigation is politically motivated.