Hope Hicks Meets With Manhattan Prosecutors as Trump Inquiry Intensifies
Hope Hicks, a trusted aide to Donald J. Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign, met with the Manhattan district attorney’s office on Monday — the latest in a string of witnesses to be questioned by prosecutors as they investigate the former president’s involvement in paying hush money to a porn star.
The appearance of Ms. Hicks, who was seen walking into the Manhattan district attorney’s office in the early afternoon, represents the latest sign that the prosecutors are in the final stages of their investigation.
She is at least the seventh witness to meet with prosecutors since the district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, convened a grand jury in January to hear evidence in the case. Last week, another prominent member of the 2016 campaign, Kellyanne Conway, testified before the grand jury, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. Two employees of Mr. Trump’s company have also testified, as have two former executives of The National Enquirer who helped broker the hush- money arrangement, as well as a lawyer for the porn star, Stormy Daniels.
The potential case is focused on Mr. Trump’s role in covering up the payment to Ms. Daniels, who has long said that she had an affair with him. The $130,000 payment was made by Michael D. Cohen, a longtime fixer for Mr. Trump, in the waning days of the 2016 campaign. After Mr. Trump took office, he reimbursed Mr. Cohen.
It is unclear whether Mr. Bragg will ultimately seek an indictment of Mr. Trump, who has denied all wrongdoing and said that he never had an affair with Ms. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. But the weekslong presentation of evidence to the grand jury suggests that the district attorney could be nearing a decision.
It could not be immediately determined whether Ms. Hicks,who also served in the White House, was testifying before the grand jury or was only meeting with prosecutors to answer their questions. A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office declined to comment, as did Robert P. Trout, a lawyer for Ms. Hicks.
Mr. Bragg is one of three prosecutors whose investigations into Mr. Trump appear to be moving quickly, even as the former president mounts a third campaign. A district attorney in Georgia is investigating Mr. Trump’s attempts to interfere with the 2020 election results in the state. And a special counsel is examining whether Mr. Trump committed federal crimes in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, and in his handling of classified documents
Mr. Trump has said that the prosecutors, including Mr. Bragg, a Democrat, are engaged in a politically motivated “witch hunt.” On Saturday, speaking to conservative media, he said that he would not drop out of the presidential race if he were to be indicted.
“I wouldn’t even think about leaving,” he said.
Mr. Cohen, who in 2018 pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the hush money and turned on Mr. Trump, has met with the district attorney’s office a number of times this year but has yet to testify in front of the grand jury. He has said he expects to testify “very soon.”
As the spokeswoman for Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign, Ms. Hicks was responsible for damage control on a number of issues, a role that has attracted the interest of various investigators over the years. In court records from Mr. Cohen’s federal case, the F.B.I. noted that she participated in a phone call with Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen on the same day they learned that Ms. Daniels wanted money for her story. Ms. Hicks also spoke with Mr. Cohen the day after he wired the $130,000 to Ms. Daniels’s lawyer.
Prosecutors are likely to want to know whether she was privy to any conversations or other information about Mr. Cohen’s dealings with Ms. Daniels’s representatives or how the hush money payment was arranged.
Ms. Hicks, however, has testified before Congress that she was not present for any conversation in which Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump discussed the hush money. She has also said that she was unaware of the deal with Ms. Daniels at the time it was arranged.
It is unclear how Ms. Hicks’s testimony would affect any case should Mr. Bragg decide to seek charges.
Any case involving the hush money payment would be likely to hinge on internal Trump Organization records that falsely identified the reimbursement to Mr. Cohen as legal expenses. To prove their case, prosecutors would have to link Mr. Trump to those false records.
Falsifying business records can be a crime in New York. But to charge Mr. Trump with a felony, Mr. Bragg’s prosecutors would have to show that his involvement in the false records was meant to help commit or conceal a second crime — probably a violation of New York State election law. The theory linking the false records to a violation of state election law has not been tested in court.
If Mr. Trump were ultimately convicted of those charges, he would face a maximum sentence of four years. But prison time would not be mandatory, and a conviction is far from assured.
Sean Piccoli contributed reporting.