What Is Hope Hicks Crying About?

Imagine a trial scene at the end of a Mob movie, with a wood-panelled courtroom and a white-haired judge. The old don at the defense table, surrounded by slick lawyers. The striving prosecutors. The armed security. The sworn witnesses, one by one, pressed to stay loyal or turn rat. That has pretty much been the scene on the fifteenth floor of the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse these past few weeks, during former President Donald Trump’s hush-money trial.

On Friday, the former White House counsellor Hope Hicks took the stand. Hicks got involved with the Trump campaign in its early days; she was already on the team in 2015, when Trump came down the Trump Tower escalator to announce that he was running for President, and she was still with him in 2021, when his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol to try to keep him in office. But Hicks has since kept her distance. After his insurrection failed, Trump decamped for Florida. Hicks stayed in Washington, where she runs her own communications consultancy. Now she was testifying against Trump after being subpoenaed by the government. In press reports about the Trump Administration, she’d often been written about as a kind of surrogate daughter to the President—according to other 2016 campaign aides, Hicks used to press Trump’s jackets and pants as he wore them. When she walked into Judge Juan Merchan’s courtroom, she could have passed for Ivanka Trump’s sister: hair extravagantly done, back straight, arms down by her sides, handbag held loosely with just the ends of her fingers. But, when she sat down in the witness stand, she didn’t look in her old boss’s direction. “I’m really nervous,” she said, immediately reaching for a glass of water placed in front of her by a court officer.

The government wanted Hicks to testify because she’d had conversations with both Trump and Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney, about Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, women who say they had sex with Trump in the early years of his marriage to former First Lady Melania Trump. As a top communications aide, Hicks helped shape the official campaign and White House response to articles about McDougal and Daniels that ran in the Wall Street Journal both before and after Trump was elected. The Manhattan District Attorney, Alvin Bragg, believes that Trump and his allies paid off McDougal and Daniels in 2016 as part of an illegal conspiracy to influence the Presidential election. Bragg’s office has charged Trump with falsifying business records when he allegedly paid Cohen back for paying off Daniels. Trump maintains his innocence, and, in fact, has portrayed himself in many ways as the victim in this trial.

Several of the witnesses who may take the stand have themselves been investigated for—or convicted of—crimes. But, in Hicks’s case, neither side suggested that she has done anything improper. She gave the prosecutors exactly what they wanted when she was asked about Trump’s reaction to a 2018 Wall Street Journal article about his relationship with Daniels, an adult-film actress who says that she and Trump had sex, in 2006, in a suite on the top floor of Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. “Mr. Trump’s opinion was it was better to be dealing with it now, and that it would have been bad to have that story come out before the election,” Hicks said. (Trump’s lawyers have suggested to the jury that the former President was primarily concerned about how news articles about alleged affairs would affect his wife; prosecutors have argued that what he was really worried about was the election.) Hicks also acknowledged that she had texted with Cohen about Daniels just a few days before Election Day in 2016. Cohen told her that “if necessary,” he had a statement from Daniels “denying everything.” “I didn’t know what he was talking about, and I didn’t want to know,” Hicks said.

But she didn’t give the prosecutors everything they were looking for. A few days ago, David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer—who purchased the rights to McDougal’s story about Trump in 2016 for a hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and who later entered into a coöperation agreement with the government—testified that, in March of 2018, after McDougal gave an interview to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, he’d spoken to both Hicks and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about McDougal’s hush-money contract. “I explained to them, to the two of them, that—why I was going to extend her agreement,” Pecker said. “And both of them said that they thought that it was a good idea.”

When the senior counsel to the District Attorney Matthew Colangelo asked Hicks whether she had spoken to Pecker after McDougal spoke to CNN, her nervousness evaporated, revealing the seasoned communications aide beneath. “I have no recollection of speaking to Mr. Pecker after that interview,” she said. When asked about Cohen, who has also coöperated with the government and is expected to be the prosecution’s star witness, Hicks took a potshot. “I used to say that he liked to call himself a ‘fixer’ or ‘Mr. Fix-It,’ and it was only because he first broke it,” she said. For most of the time that Hicks was testifying, Trump was sitting in his now customary position at the defense table, slumped in his chair, eyes closed, seemingly semiconscious. But, when Hicks made that crack about Cohen, his mouth broke out into a crooked little paternal smile.

It was left to Emil Bove, one of Trump’s attorneys, to cross-examine Hicks. Bove, a former federal terrorism prosecutor, had displayed nothing but contempt for the previous witnesses. “The things that I’ve shown you this morning raise some questions about how this phone was handled, right?” he asked Douglas Daus, a forensic computer analyst in the District Attorney’s office who handled cell phones that Cohen turned over, after grilling him on Friday morning. “In many ways, we are just going to have to take Michael Cohen’s word for it, aren’t we?” But, with Hicks, Bove was gentler. “I think you said this morning that it ran a little bit like a family business while you were there?” he asked, at one point, referring to the Trump Organization. Hicks said yes. Bove also asked her about her early days there. “Your initial title was the director of communications?” he asked. She said yes. “And that was a position that the Trump Organization created to bring you in, right?” he asked. She said yes. “And I think you said this morning that you focussed on real estate, hospitality, and entertainment—that was your portfolio there?” he said. She turned her head to the side, and cast her eyes down. “Sorry,” she said, her voice breaking. A tissue appeared in her hand, and she dabbed her eyes. “Could I just have a minute?” she asked. The stenographer sitting a few feet from Hicks wrote “(Crying)” into the official record. “Ms. Hicks, do you need a break?” Merchan asked. “Yes, please,” she said. Merchan excused the jury, and then Hicks, her eyes red and puffy, came down from the stand and walked out of the courtroom, still avoiding Trump.

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