April 20, 2024

Former White House communications director Hope Hicks is expected to be a witness for the prosecution when the falsifying business records case against Donald Trump goes to trial in New York this month, a source with direct knowledge of the situation told NBC News on Monday.

Hicks met for several hours last year with the Manhattan prosecutors who brought the case. They allege that the former president falsified records relating to a hush money payment his then-lawyer Michael Cohen made to adult film star Stormy Daniels in the final weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign.

At that time, Hicks was Trump’s campaign press secretary. Her possible testimony at the criminal trial, which is scheduled to begin April 15, was first reported by The New York Times.

Hope Hicks with Donald Trump in Las Vegas in 2020.Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images file

An attorney for Hicks said in 2019 that she’d been unaware of the hush money payment until it became public. But an FBI agent who’d been investigating Cohen said in an affidavit for Cohen’s federal criminal case that he believed Hicks was involved in the negotiations aimed at preventing Daniels from going public with her claim that she’d had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. Trump has denied sleeping with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

The affidavit noted that the negotiations began in earnest after Trump’s campaign was reeling from the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape on Oct. 7, 2016. In that video from 2005, Trump could be heard saying in a hot mic moment that he can grope women without their consent because “when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

“I have learned that in the days following the Access Hollywood video, Cohen exchanged a series of calls, text messages and emails with Keith Davidson, who was then Clifford’s attorney, David Pecker and Dylan Howard of American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, Trump, and Hope Hicks, who was then press secretary for Trump’s presidential campaign,” the FBI agent wrote in the affidavit.

“Based on the timing of these calls, and the content of the text messages and emails, I believe that at least some of these communications concerned the need to prevent Clifford from going public, particularly in the wake of the Access Hollywood story,” the affidavit said.

Court records indicate Hicks called Cohen at 7:20 p.m. on Oct. 8, 2016 — the first time she had called him in weeks — and that Trump joined the call seconds later. The conversation lasted four minutes. Hicks and Cohen spoke privately after Trump left the call and, after that, Cohen phoned Pecker, the president of AMI, according to court records.

Moments after that conversation ended, Cohen received a phone call from Howard, the chief content officer at AMI, the court records indicated. Cohen then called Hicks and spoke again with Pecker. At 8:03 p.m., according to the unsealed federal court documents, Cohen called Trump. They spoke for eight minutes.

The court records also have Trump and Cohen speaking twice on Oct. 26, the day Cohen wired $130,000 to an escrow account that would eventually be sent to Daniels’ attorney as payment for an agreement to secure her silence.

Hicks told the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee in 2019 that she was not involved with the hush money discussions, and she told the FBI that she did not “to the best of her recollection” become aware of Daniels’ allegations until early November 2016.

After the Democratic chair of the committee questioned the “apparent inconsistencies” in Hicks’ testimony following the 2019 unsealing of the FBI affidavit, Hicks’ lawyer Robert Trout said in a statement, “Reports claiming that Ms. Hicks was involved in conversations about ‘hush-money’ payments on Oct. 8, 2016, or knew that payments were being discussed, are simply wrong.”

“Ms. Hicks stands by her truthful testimony that she first became aware of this issue in early November 2016, as the result of press inquiries,” the attorney said.

Cohen and Daniels are expected to be key witnesses for the case being brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office. Trump has pleaded not guilty.