Hope Hicks meets with NY prosecutors investigating Trump

NEW YORK (AP) – Donald Trump’s former spokesman Hope Hicks met Monday with Manhattan prosecutors investigating hush money payments to women on behalf of the former president — the latest member of the Republican’s inner circle to be questioned in the renewed probe.

Hicks and her attorney, Robert Trout, spent several hours inside the Manhattan district attorney’s office and were seen afterward walking to a waiting SUV. They did not say anything to the reporters as they got into the vehicle.

Trout declined comment. The district attorney’s office also declined comment and would not confirm that prosecutors interviewed Hicks, who was previously questioned in 2018 by federal prosecutors investigating the same conduct.

Hicks served as Trump’s press secretary in the 2016 campaign and spoke to Trump by phone in a frantic attempt to keep his alleged affairs out of the press in the final weeks before the election, according to court records from the federal investigation. Hicks later held various roles in his White House, including director of communications.

Last week, prosecutors questioned Cohen, who arranged payments to two women, and former Trump political adviser Kellyanne Conway.

After his session last Friday, Cohen told reporters that the investigation is “really moving forward.” He said he expects to testify soon before a grand jury that has heard evidence since January.

“The level of specificity to which they are attacking the various issues is extraordinary,” Cohen said, adding that he has met with prosecutors 18 times through several iterations of the investigation.

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal charges including campaign finance violations for arranging payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal to prevent them from being published. Trump has denied the cases.

Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 through his own firm and was then reimbursed by Trump, whose firm recorded the repayments as “legal costs.” McDougal’s $150,000 payment was made through the publisher of the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer, which swallowed 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 October 8, 2016, the day after the release of the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump bragged 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 called Trump again at 8:03 p.m. and spoke with him for eight minutes, followed by several calls and texts 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 get the attention they feared it would.

“So far I only see 6 stories. Getting little to no traction,” Cohen wrote, according to the records.

“Same. Keep praying!! It works!” Hicks replied.

Last year, Hicks was interviewed by House January 6 committeeand told 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 key information about Trump’s attempts to obstruct that investigation.

As for the hush-money investigation, 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 filed against Trump under former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who shifted the investigation’s focus to the Trump Organization’s business practices. The company was convicted of tax fraud in December and fined $1.6 million.

The current district attorney, Alvin Bragg, has shown renewed interest in pursuing more charges, possibly against Trump himself. To do so would be unprecedented. No former president has ever been charged with a crime.

Conway’s attorney did not 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 the payments to the two women did not break any laws. Trump says the investigation is politically motivated.

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