Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday)


- MICHAEL SNEED | @sneedlings

Loyalty. The first and last doctrine in Donald J. Trump’s world. It’s the fealty line no one is permitted to cross. Do so. Fie. Bye-bye.

So, it was a stunner this week when news hit that Hope Hicks, Trump’s former loyal White House counselor/communicat­ions chief, may testify as a prosecutio­n witness in the former president’s Manhattan trial this month. If you’re having trouble keeping track, that’s the one about an alleged hush-money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels to prevent damage to Trump’s 2016 presidenti­al plans.

Will Hope Hicks become the next Cassidy Hutchinson to shed her Trump loyalty cloak?

“Not commenting,” Hicks’ New York attorney, Robert Trout, texted me.

The news also reminded Sneed of some personal Hope Hicks loyalty lore. It prompted a flashback to a 2016 Sneed column involving Hicks, legendary for her uber allegiance when serving as Trump’s 2016 presidenti­al campaign press secretary — and Hicks’ fear her loyalty might be questioned (meaning she’d be fired) if the column ran.

The column item did make national news. But not so much because it was historical.

Rather, it was hysterical. The unexpected result of a three-way conference call orchestrat­ed by this columnist with former Bears coach Mike Ditka and then-presidenti­al hopeful Trump.

And it was all greenlit by Hicks.

Ditka, Tyson RNC speakers?

At issue was a report that Ditka and boxing champ Mike Tyson, both Trump fans, were being lined up to speak at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Both Ditka and Tyson told reporters they had yet to receive invites, but the Chicago Tribune quoted Ditka saying he’d do it if Trump asked him.

So, Sneed dispatched a quick note to the Trump folks basically stating: “How about a few words from your boss?” And I called up Coach Ditka, who was golfing (or playing cards) at Bob O’Link Golf Club in Highland Park.

Da Coach took the call. While Ditka chatted away, Trump returned my call! A threeway conference call ensued with Hicks’ blessing … and an official Trump invitation to Ditka to speak at the RNC!

It went like this:

Trump: “Coach Ditka, I really appreciate everything you’ve said about me. You are a winner. A real winner.”

Ditka: “Everything you say about things, about the country, I agree with your opinions. You resonate with my kind of people. I believe in what you say wholeheart­edly.”

Trump: “You know, Bobby Knight [the former Indiana University coach] loves you. My polling went up 10 points after Bobby came out in favor of me.

“And I just got back a Quinnipiac poll. The numbers are good.

I’m doing real well.”

Lobbing compliment­s back and forth interrupte­d by brief periods of ambient silence (while I typed), Trump finally made the ask.

Trump: “Coach, if you’d like to speak, it would be my great honor.”

(Get ready for the OMG! moment.)

Ditka: “I’m not big into doing things like that. I’m not going to change opinions, opinions are like a--holes. I believe in the way the Constituti­on was written. But people want to change that. Immigratio­n. Same thing. People want to change things. I believe in you and what you are saying.”

Then an abrupt silence. The line was dead. Trump had hung up.

Hope Hicks’ hopes

Minutes later, Hope Hicks called; very polite, cautious, anxious — hoping we would consider not printing a column now … maybe something later. It was pretty obvious Trump had expected Ditka, who had just slathered him with praise, to accept the RNC speaking invitation. And, yes, Hicks indicated the possibilit­y her job might be on the line.

The column ran.

Later, Ditka, who claimed he “didn’t like traveling much in old age,” declined a personal invite to Trump’s inaugurati­on, but chose to watch it “sitting at home in front of the TV set with my wife, Diana, eating hamburgers and smoking the biggest cigar I can find.”

“There is no bigger Trump fan in the world than I am,” opined Ditka, a Trumpster who obviously knows how to say “no.” Imagine.

And despite Hicks’ handwringi­ng, she not only didn’t lose her campaign job, she went on to hold various big jobs in the Trump White House.

Sneedlings …

A last goodbye: The death of former Cook County Board President Richard “Dick” Phelan, whose funeral is Sunday, prompted this memorial from his former chief of staff and longtime political insider/ lobbyist Bill Filan. “Not only was Dick wonderful to work for, but he was not afraid to work bipartisan, working both sides of the aisle to bring millions of dollars in Medicaid back to Cook County and restoring abortion services back to Cook County Hospital.”

Saturday birthdays: Billy Dee Williams, 87; Marilu Henner, 72; Paul Rudd, 55; Karen Stefani, ageless. … Sunday birthdays: Francis Ford Coppola, 85; Russell Crowe, 60 … Expect a few Sneedlings via Monday’s solar eclipse from my sister Pat’s backyard near Burlington, Vermont, where the viewing is expected to be the best nationwide. Wish I were going.

 ?? GETTY IMAGES, AP FILES ?? Hope Hicks (above) was worried Donald Trump would tell her, ‘‘You’re fired!’’ after former Bears coach Mike Ditka rejected Trump’s offer to speak at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
GETTY IMAGES, AP FILES Hope Hicks (above) was worried Donald Trump would tell her, ‘‘You’re fired!’’ after former Bears coach Mike Ditka rejected Trump’s offer to speak at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
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