President Donald Trump’s longtime aide and current communications director, Hope Hicks, is scheduled to speak with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in mid-November, following the president’s trip to Asia, multiple people familiar with the schedule told POLITICO.
Mueller’s team is also expected to interview three or four other current White House officials as early as this week, according to an administration official.
Mueller’s team already has interviewed former aides, including Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and former press secretary Sean Spicer. But the latest round of interviews appears to mark a new phase of the investigation — hauling in current administration officials for daylong depositions.
“Nothing about recent events alters the White House’s commitment to fully cooperate with the office of the special counsel,” White House lawyer Ty Cobb said Tuesday in an interview.
The White House expects Mueller to wrap up his interviews by Thanksgiving.
Hicks, 28, one of only a few aides who has been at Trump’s side and in the room since before he launched his presidential campaign, has long been expected to be called as a witness. Earlier this fall, she retained a personal attorney, Robert Trout.
But her scheduled interview comes just as allies of the president, including former chief strategist Steve Bannon, have been pressuring Trump and his lawyers to find ways to undercut Mueller’s investigation — especially after the White House was blindsided by criminal charges filed against three former Trump campaign aides on Monday.
Breitbart news chief Bannon, according to two people familiar with his thinking, has been pushing the idea of defunding Mueller’s investigation. That strategy is easier said than done: Mueller’s budget is drawn from a permanent Treasury Department account, and the Justice Department regulations that were used in Mueller’s appointment note that he “shall be provided all appropriate resources” to conduct his investigation.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that the president would not support defunding the probe.
But Bannon has been double-teaming the White House along with billionaire real estate investor and longtime Trump confidant Tom Barrack on the idea of shaking up its legal team in favor of attorneys who will take a more combative, less conciliatory, approach toward Mueller and his team. That view was shared by former Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz.
Cobb, in contrast, has stressed his relationship with Mueller that has spanned decades as an asset to the president, and underscored repeatedly to Trump that more cooperation will help end the investigation sooner. For now, Cobb’s word appears to be carrying the day with Trump: The president is listening to him, White House officials said, and so far has done nothing to block his go-along-to-get-along strategy.
That’s in part because for now, people close to the White House said the president and his team understand they don’t have much choice.
With three fresh indictments on the table, it would be “political suicide” at this juncture, one insider familiar with the White House’s thinking said, to stop cooperating with the special counsel’s office. The continued cooperation, instead, is a signal the White House is confident the president is in no real jeopardy as the investigation continues.
On Tuesday, Sanders said the president still supports his current legal team. “I’m not sure how he couldn’t, considering … all of the revelations that have taken place … have nothing to do with the president, have nothing to do with his campaign,” she said.
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