Trump aide Hope Hicks faces mounting scrutiny
As much as Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, tries to hide from the spotlight, the glare of the past week has been blinding.
First, the New York Times reported that special counsel Robert Mueller was zeroing on Hicks as part of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Then, multiple media outlets linked Hicks romantically to Rob Porter, who was forced to resign as White House staff secretary Wednesday after domestic violence allegations were made by both of his ex-wives, including photographs of one with a black eye.
The spate of negative attention for Hicks, who is from Greenwich, has put the presidential confidant under heightened duress, said a source close to the Trump’s administration, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Hicks reportedly helped craft a statement by White House chief of staff John Kelly, in which he defended Porter, calling him “a man of true integrity and honor.” After blowback, Kelly issued another statement saying he was “shocked” by the allegations and that “There is no place for domestic violence in our society.”
The source, who has direct knowledge of the chain of command, said it was surprising that Hicks didn’t recuse herself because of her relationship with Porter. Whenever there’s a developing story or controversy that necessitates a response from the White House, the person said, the practice is for Hicks and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to huddle with Kellyanne Conway.
Although Hicks and Porter often worked along side each other in the West Wing — his office was downstairs from hers on the other side of the building — the fact that the two were dating was not common knowledge, the source said.
While Trump’s White House has been a carousel of top aides, if there’s one individual who has earned the benefit of the doubt from the president, it’s Hicks, the person said.
“The president doesn’t trust anyone in the administration as much as he trusts Hope,” the source said.
A request for comment was left Thursday with Hicks, 29, a one-time model who previously handled public relations for Ivanka Trump and her fashion line.
Security clearance questions
Among the burning questions being asked Thursday, both privately in the administration and publicly by the media and Democrats on Capitol Hill, was how Porter got an interim security clearance to work in the West Wing.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a frequent target of Trump’s barbs, called Thursday for an investigation into the security clearance process used for White House aides in a letter to Acting Inspector General Wayne Stone. It was also signed by Democrats Elizabeth Warren and Mazie Hirono.
“We are concerned over the apparent low and inconsistent threshold the Trump White House uses for obtaining an interim security clearance,” the senators wrote.
White House spokesman Raj Shah, who is from Norwalk and was filling in for Sanders at the daily press briefing Thursday, said the Trump administration trusts the background check process.
“His background investigation was ongoing,” Shah said of Porter. “His (security) clearance was never denied, and he resigned.”
The topic of Hicks did not come up during Thursday’s briefing. Things aren’t about to simmer down, either, as Hicks still must appearance before the House Intelligence Committee as part of its investigation into Trump’s Russian contacts. Her testimony in front of the committee was postponed last month for unspecified reasons.
Last week, the New York Times reported that Hicks assured Trump during a conference call that potentially damaging emails written by Donald Trump Jr. about a Trump Tower meeting with the Russians “will never get out.” The purpose of the 2016 confab was to dig up dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Hicks’ big-time D.C. lawyer Robert Trout denied that she said that and said that any suggestion that Hicks would delete emails and obstruct justice was completely false.
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