The rocky road that fol­lows the re­lease of the Mueller re­port

The News-Times - - FRONT PAGE - DAN FREED­MAN Sym­pa­thy for Hope Hicks

Whether you like him or not so much, Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal brings an un­usual per­spec­tive to bear on the Mueller re­port — which he was read­ing for the sec­ond time when I reached him by phone Fri­day.

As Con­necti­cut’s for­mer state at­tor­ney gen­eral and U.S. at­tor­ney, Blu­men­thal sees spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s work through pros­e­cu­to­rial lenses.

But as a po­lit­i­cal fig­ure in the U.S. Se­nate and a thinly veiled loather of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump (who never misses an op­por­tu­nity to trash Blu­men­thal), he kind of wishes Mueller had pulled the pin be­fore toss­ing the grenade.

The 400-plus pages of the Mueller re­port is a grab bag, some­thing for ev­ery­one. Blu­men­thal and the rest of the Con­necti­cut Dem del­e­ga­tion sees “an epic mo­saic of crim­i­nal­ity and im­pro­pri­ety,” Blu­men­thal’s words.

But Trump was do­ing a vic­tory dance, tweet­ing about the “Crazy Mueller Re­port” and Mueller’s team chasing a “made-up fraud.”

Mueller ended up say­ing ev­i­dence was in­suf­fi­cient to charge Trump or his cam­paign team with con­spir­ing and co­or­di­nat­ing with Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence to chip away at his Demo­cratic ri­val, Hil­lary Clin­ton. And he punted on ob­struc­tion, say­ing that al­though the re­port does not ac­cuse him of a crime, “it also does not ex­on­er­ate him.”

Did Mueller pull his punches? Did he blink in the end, un­will­ing to take down the Pres­i­dent of the United States, no mat­ter how flawed?

“The four cor­ners of the law don’t al­ways fit moral or eth­i­cal breaches,” Blu­men­thal said. “Whether it was crim­i­nal or not, the mis­con­duct was un­eth­i­cal, im­moral, un­be­fit­ting the pres­i­dency and a betrayal of Don­ald Trump’s oath of of­fice.”

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr said Thurs­day he has no prob­lem per­mit­ting Mueller to tes­tify be­fore Congress. If he ap­pears be­fore the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, of which Blu­men­thal is a mem­ber, Blu­men­thal said he plans to ask Mueller whether he didn’t push fur­ther be­cause of an internal Jus­tice Depart­ment pol­icy that a sit­ting pres­i­dent can­not be in­dicted.

Does Mueller agree with the pol­icy? And why didn’t he push harder for an in­ter­view with Trump, in­stead of just sub­mit­ting writ­ten ques­tions? (Mueller in the re­port stated that hag­gling with Trump’s lawyers over an in­ter­view would have eaten up a lot more time.)

Mueller is a “by-the-book guy and prob­a­bly he went as far as he thought he could go, ad­her­ing to the rules as he per­ceived him to be,” Blu­men­thal said.

With Mueller clos­ing up shop, the ac­tion now likely shifts to New York.

Mueller listed 14 re­fer­rals on Trump-re­lated mat­ters to other law en­force­ment agen­cies, Most were blot­ted out in the re­port. But likely among them is flesh­ing out the case against Michael Co­hen, Trump’s fixer who al­ready has pleaded guilty to mak­ing pay­ments to women who claimed af­fairs with Trump in or­der to buy their si­lence prior to the

2016 elec­tion.

Co­hen said he was di­rected to do so by “In­di­vid­ual-1” — ev­i­dently a ref­er­ence to Trump.

An then there’s a New York state in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Deutsche Bank — which lent Trump mil­lions for real-es­tate in­vest­ments when other banks were shun­ning him.

The door also is open for im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings, which would start in the House.

“Noth­ing should be taken off ta­ble but there would have to be a lot of ad­di­tional thought and fact find­ing and con­sid­er­a­tion of the Mueller re­port be­fore any rem­edy is de­cided,” said Blu­men­thal.

Af­ter read­ing the Mueller re­port, I couldn’t help but feel just a bit of sym­pa­thy for Hope Hicks. Now just 30, she had a sto­ry­book up­bring­ing in Green­wich, clas­sic looks and brains to match, a mod­el­ing ca­reer fol­lowed by a PR ca­reer that landed her a job as pub­li­cist for Ivanka Trump’s cloth­ing line in 2014.

From that, it was just a hop, skip, jump to the world of Don­ald Trump and his bud­ding presidenti­al cam­paign. She be­came “Hopie,” “The Hopester,” the one Trump trusted more than vir­tu­ally any­one out­side his own fam­ily. A high-level com­mu­ni­ca­tions po­si­tion in the White House beck­oned af­ter Trump sur­prised ev­ery­one — in­clud­ing himself — and won the 2016 presidenti­al elec­tion.

But the sto­ry­book turned into some­thing of a night­mare as the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller pro­ceeded. In co­pi­ous de­tail, the Mueller re­port re­counts how the pub­licly de­mure Hicks’ head be­gan spin­ning as she read through emails telling Don­ald Trump Jr. that an emis­sary from Rus­sia sought to pro­vide “doc­u­ments and in­for­ma­tion that would in­crim­i­nate Hil­lary and her deal­ings with Rus­sia” as part of “Rus­sia and its gov­ern­ment’s sup­port for Mr. Trump.’’

The email ex­change even­tu­ally led to the now-fa­mous meet­ing at Trump Tower with Don­ald Jr., Paul Manafort, son-in-law Jared Kush­ner and a Rus­sian lawyer thought to be the pur­veyor of “dirt” on Hil­lary. The meet­ing proved to be less event­ful, and the lawyer segued into a dis­cus­sion of U.S. le­gal con­straints on Rus­sia that af­fected the adop­tion of Rus­sian chil­dren.

Hicks told the Mueller team she thought the emails were “re­ally bad” and the me­dia re­sponse, once they were dis­closed, would be “mas­sive.”

She went to Trump and coun­seled early dis­clo­sure of the emails to get ahead of the story, cou­pled with a friendly in­ter­view full of “softball ques­tions.” Trump waved her off, say­ing it was unlikely the emails would leak - and in any case he didn’t want to know any­thing about it.

When Hicks sub­se­quently told Trump the New York Times was work­ing on a story, Trump told her not to say any­thing. When she men­tioned the adop­tion dis­cus­sion to Trump, the pres­i­dent re­sponded: “Then just say that.”

Af­ter some back-and­forth with Don­ald Jr., Hicks pre­pared a state­ment say­ing the meet­ing was “pri­mar­ily” about the adop­tion of Rus­sian chil­dren. Don­ald Jr. wanted “pri­mar­ily” in the state­ment as a hedge.

Mueller cites Trump’s three direc­tions to Hicks not to dis­close any­thing about the June 2016 meet­ing as “ob­struc­tive acts.” But ul­ti­mately Mueller con­cluded Trump’s ac­tions were not ob­struc­tion be­cause Trump never tried to hide the emails from Congress or Mueller’s team.

In any case, pretty heady stuff for Hicks, then 28. Eight months later, she was out the White House door and headed to Los An­ge­les for a po­si­tion as com­mu­ni­ca­tions chief for Fox. Now we know what she’s re­cov­er­ing from.

As­so­ci­ated Press file photo

Robert S. Mueller, III, for­mer direc­tor of the F.B.I., tes­ti­fies on Capi­tol Hill in 2004. Mueller’s re­port on Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 presidenti­al elec­tion was re­leased Thurs­day.

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