The Right Wing

The Mystery of Mark Corallo: Has a Longtime GOP Insider Turned on Trump?

GOP operative Corallo will now spill to Mueller. But why has he hired Trump loyalists as lawyers?

Photo Credit: Mike Trukhachev / Shutterstock

As I write this, reports have it that Rep. Devin Nunes' legendary "memo" will be released today, perhaps not by the White House but rather by the Congress, as Trump plays Pontius Pilate and pretends to wash his hands of the matter after giving the go-ahead. The White House now fears the memo will be "a dud," according to Jonathan Swan at Axios, and CNN has reported that officials there are now worried that FBI Director Christopher Wray may resign over its release. The good news is that the tedious saga of Memogate is about to be over one way or the other. You may be reading it over your coffee right this minute. I hope so. It is my fondest wish to never to have to talk about it again.

This does not mean that the Russia investigation is slowing down. In fact, some people are whispering that the dramatic rending of garments over the memo is actually in service of sweeping something more significant under the rug. I don't subscribe to the "distraction" theory, under which the cunning Donald Trump acts like a clown so that we don't notice the "real story" happening under the radar. He's not that good. But one Russia story broke this week that probably didn't get the attention it normally would have, thanks to all the hoopla over the memo. Considering the players involved, I would guess that's not an accident.

I'm speaking of reports that former Trump legal spokesman Mark Corallo is prepared to talk to special counsel Robert Mueller about a conference call he had last July with White House communications director Hope Hicks and President Trump. According to Corallo, Hicks told him that the email chain between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and go-between Rob Goldstone, setting up the now-infamous June 2016 meeting with Russian emissaries at Trump Tower, would "never get out."

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This conversation apparently happened the day after President Trump and a few close advisers had drafted a statement aboard Air Force One in response to written questions from the New York Times about the Trump Tower meeting.  Evidently, Corallo believed Hicks was suggesting that the White House planned to destroy evidence that at the time was already under congressional subpoena in the Paul Manafort investigation. Hiding or destroying those emails would have been a crime. Corallo quit his job shortly thereafter. (Hicks' attorney told the Times this week that she denies making the reported comment, and never suggested concealing evidence.)

Mueller is said to be very interested in this event for reasons that are not entirely clear. Trump personally dictated the original Air Force One statement claiming that the Trump Tower meeting was "primarily" about Russian adoptions, which was curious since he supposedly hadn't known anything about the meeting until that time. It's not a crime to lie to the media (fortunately for the president), so perhaps that's what the prosecutors find so intriguing about Trump's involvement. His comments a day after the June 2016 meeting, in which he claimed he would soon give a major address about "all the things that have taken place with the Clintons" and hinted darkly at some information about corruption, certainly seem suspicious in retrospect. (No such speech ever happened.)

In any event, three sources told the Times this week that the Mueller team has asked Corallo to come in for an interview, and that this is what he plans to talk about. Why these sources decided to spill all this right now is something of a mystery, but since Corallo is a Republican public relations and crisis management professional with years of experience working at the Justice Department, it's fair to assume this is all part of a coordinated strategy.

So far, Corallo has been portrayed as an upstanding hero. Perhaps that's true. According to this article in Politico, he has deep respect for Mueller and is something of a crusader for press freedom. It appears that Corallo walked away from this White House at double speed once he figured out what was going on.

But it's not as if this guy hasn't gotten his hands dirty in the past. Corallo once worked for former Rep. Dan Burton, best remembered for shooting watermelons in his backyard in an attempt to prove that Vince Foster, the White House counsel in the early days of the Bill Clinton administration, did not commit suicide. He was spokesman for Attorney General John Ashcroft during the George W. Bush years, and then represented former Bush officials Scooter Libby and Karl Rove during the Valerie Plame scandal. Corallo is also close to longtime Clinton antagonist David Bossie, who became the Trump campaign's deputy campaign.

In other words, Corallo has been a hardcore movement conservative for more than 20 years, and is a ranking member of what we used to call the "vast right-wing conspiracy." Most of his fellow travelers have jumped on the Trump train and are holding on for dear life. Certainly his own attorneys have. Corallo has hired two of the most famous conservative lawyers in the country, the husband-and-wife team of Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing, both of whom are fixtures in right-wing media and legal circles going back to the Clinton years. The Washington Post once described them as "The Power Couple at Scandal's Vortex."

DiGenova is a former U.S. attorney who himself once served as an independent counsel, investigating whether George H.W. Bush's aides had illegally searched Bill Clinton's passport file. (He concluded they hadn't.) His most recent commentary for Fox News included a full-throated embrace of the current Deep State conspiracy theory; he said this was "a disgraceful moment for the [FBI], much worse than the late [J. Edgar] Hoover period." In a recent interview with the Daily Caller, diGenova claimed that Barack Obama and James Comey had engaged in "a brazen plot to exonerate Hillary Clinton and frame an incoming president with a false Russian conspiracy.”

Toensing, his wife and legal partner, was recently hired by the purported informant who claims to have evidence that the Russians bribed Hillary Clinton for favorable treatment in the Uranium One sale. She also represents Sam Clovis, another Trump campaign official who is caught up in the Russia probe. Last week, Toensing wrote an op-ed for Fox News in which she urged Trump not to agree to an interview with Robert Mueller, because no crime has been committed.

I think you get the idea. Now, perhaps diGenova and Toensing are just expressing their personal views in those venues, and are now representing Corallo with no thought to their overt public commitment to President Trump. Some lawyers could do that. But these particular lawyers are right-wing media all-stars who have offered daily commentary on the Russia investigation and related matters.

If Mark Corallo is going to be an important witness against Trump, you might think he'd be a little worried about whose interests these two attorneys are actually serving. But he's no fool, and he's been around Washington for a long time. Why would he hire a pair of prominent Trump loyalists as his legal team? That's an interesting question, and the only plausible answer is that we don't know as much as we think we do about what Mark Corallo is really up to.

 

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Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.