Corallo enjoyed working with fellow New Yorkers Sekulow, Kasowitz, and Bowe, as well as Ryun. But Corallo, who already had White House experience, was immediately dismayed by the feuding and chaos around him now. “Where’s the schedule?” he had asked in his first meeting, thinking back to the Bush days, when even the president’s three-minute bathroom breaks were planned. Instead, the place was more like a fraternity house with anyone wandering in and out of offices, including the president’s.
In June, the lawyers learned there were emails not yet in the public domain concerning the meeting in Trump Tower in June 2016 requested by a Kremlin-connected lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya. (This was the one for which a British publicist, Rob Goldstone, had emailed Don Jr. that he had a lawyer with ties to the Russian government who had “dirt” on Clinton. Don Jr. replied, “I love it.” Kushner and Manafort attended the meeting; Ivanka talked to Veselnitskaya on her way out of Trump Tower.) The consensus among the lawyers was that they should be pre- pared to advise the president that Kushner might have to leave the White House. Sekulow told Corallo he should prepare talking points in case it came to that. Dowd, a former Marine Corps lawyer who knew Mueller— and would later assure Trump, “I can get [the Mueller investigation] done in three weeks”—was the only one who expressed any reluctance. “He was charmed by Jared and Ivanka,” Corallo recalled. Meanwhile, the legal team was negotiating with Congress as to when they needed to produce campaign-related documents. They figured they had until after Labor Day.
According to a member of the legal team, Kushner’s new lawyer, Abbe Lowell, told Trump’s lawyers that before emails regarding that Trump Tower meeting were provided to Congress, he wanted to leak them to the media, and he wanted Don Jr. to do it, presumably as part of a strategy to associate the meeting with Don Jr. rather than Kushner. (Lowell denied this.) Jamie Gorelick argued for an almost immediate release, but she was overruled by Lowell. (She was still representing Kushner but was slowly extricating herself from that relationship, having been “nudged out by Kushner [for] not being aggressive enough with the press,” according to Corallo.) What the president’s lawyers and spokesmen did not know— and felt Lowell omitted to tell them—was that Kushner had, for the third time, updated his SF-86 forms, this time including the Trump Tower meeting. (Lowell said he never shares details of his clients’ security forms.) Bowe and Kasowitz told Lowell that at the appropriate time—and they would give the signal—he could manage the publicity around the emails. Kushner and Don Jr. were not their clients. Even so, they had some reservations. They did not trust Lowell.
It quickly became apparent to Kushner and Ivanka that they were not universally liked by the new team of presidential lawyers and their spokesman. One strong clue: they kept being asked to leave the room. The lawyers noticed that the couple, one or the other of them, mostly Ivanka, interrupted pretty much every meeting they had with the president. One member of the group said Ivanka would just “mysteriously” happen by for every meeting. “We’d just be sitting there awkwardly, like, Okay, well, we can’t really talk until she leaves.” Corallo explained to me that Kushner and Ivanka appeared not to have any understanding of the difference between a regular PR issue and a federal criminal investigation, and how you cannot get between the president and his lawyers without becoming witnesses and ruining the privilege of the conversations. “They were reckless,” said Corallo. “They were omnipresent.”
Corallo was so concerned about Kushner and Ivanka’s intrusions that he warned Donald McGahn, “Make sure people are not discussing this case.” McGahn said, “Trust me. It’s the bane of my existence, having to get people to understand the importance of this.”
Corallo was open about how horrible a precedent he felt the behavior of Jared and Ivanka was, and how difficult it made it for the rest of the White House staff to function. But Kushner and Ivanka seemed oblivious—another aspect of their personalities that rankled the outside legal team. “They talk to you as if they grew up in an ivory tower, which they did—but they have no idea how normal people perceive, understand, intuit,” someone close to the legal team told me. They seemed like “the type of people who, if you don’t pretty much indicate quickly that you’re happy to shove your head up their ass, you’re immediately a threat.”
It was also difficult to get Trump’s attention when Kushner and Ivanka were around. “You can’t have a conversation without him talking about her,” Corallo complained to me, doing an imitation of Trump. “‘Isn’t Ivanka fabulous? I mean, is she not one of the best-looking women you’ve ever seen? And they’re good kids, and I just think it’s crazy. They’ve got a nice life in New York. What do they want to do this for? God, they’re fabulous, though. Aren’t they fantastic? I mean, have you ever seen a better-looking couple?’”
Corallo is fastidiously polite, and widely respected in Washington Republican circles, but Kushner saw a tougher side of him in mid-June, when he again tried to persuade Corallo to take the White House communications director job. A group of senior White House staff, including Corallo, was discussing possible options to replace Dubke. Kushner walked in and said, “Well, if Mark would just say yes, we wouldn’t have to have these discussions.”Corallo demurred politely, saying that he had made a promise to his wife after leaving the Justice Department to make sure he had enough time for his family.Kushner didn’t let it go. “Don’t you want to serve your country?”
Corallo paused. “Young man, my three years at the butt end of an M16 checked that box.”
As things soured between Corallo and Javanka, he learned they were out to get him—behind his back. Some days after that conversation about public service, Corallo got a call from a reporter, an old friend. “Dude, what did you do to Jared and Ivanka? They’ve sicced this Joshua Rafel on you; he’s trashing you all over town.”Corallo heard from six or seven reporters that his integrity was being attacked. He was indignant. A mutual friend of the Trumps and of Corallo had warned him, “Keep your head down, be careful. I’m worried about you, because the minute one faction perceives that you are on somebody else’s team, the knives are going to come out, and they’re going to try to kill you.”
Corallo replied, “Hey, buddy, I’m too old for that. If I feel like I’m being attacked, I’m out of there. I mean, life’s too short.”
The pressure continued to mount on Corallo when he found himself on the phone with Dowd, who was telling him to “make peace with Jared and Ivanka.” Corallo said he had not done anything wrong. Instead of apologizing, he quit. Bowe asked him to reconsider. “We need you,” he said. Corallo reluctantly agreed to return. Dowd, in turn, told Corallo he would talk to Kushner and Ivanka, and tell them to call of their PR attack dog.
On June 19, The New York Times ran a story about Corallo’s tweets—the ones he had given to the White House before accepting the job. When Ivanka saw him, she sniffed, “Nice tweets, Mark.” He shrugged. “Well, I am a conservative. Sorry.” Next, Trump grilled him. “What are you? One of these Never-Trumpers?” Corallo was matter-of-fact. “Mr. President, it is your privilege to dismiss me at any moment. . . . I support you and voted for you . . . but I don’t agree with everything you’ve done. That doesn’t mean I am not loyal.”
The weekend after July 4, Corallo was at a fireworks celebration when his phone rang. A reporter from Circa, a Sinclair-owned news website, had gotten fragments about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. Corallo and the others presumed the leaks were from congressional committees reviewing campaign material handed over by Manafort as part of their investigations of Russian meddling in the election. The reporter didn’t have the email correspondence about the meeting, but knew Don Jr. had attended. When Corallo got that call, Trump was at the G20 summit in Germany with Ivanka and Kushner.
Corallo brainstormed with the president’s legal team and drafted a statement he wanted to give to John Solomon, a journalist at Circa he knew well. It said: “We have learned from both our own investigation and pub- lic reports that the participants in the meeting misrepresented who they were and who they worked for. . . . Specifically, we have learned that the person who sought the meeting is associated with Fusion GPS, a firm which according to public reports was retained by Democratic operatives to develop opposition research on the president and which commissioned the phony [Christopher] Steele dossier. These developments raise serious issues as to exactly who authorized and participated in any effort by Russian nationals to influence our election in any manner.”
They asked Solomon to delay publishing his story, partly because the Trump lawyers wanted to avoid having this news hit the Sunday morning TV circuit, but also because Circa had asked for a statement from Don Jr., and Bowe could not get hold of Don Jr.’s lawyer, Alan Futerfas. While Bowe was still waiting on Futerfas, The New York Times published an article about the meeting.
The team had no idea The New York Times had been looking into the story. What’s more, they were blindsided by a statement in the article, purportedly from Don Jr. (It would later be reported that it had been dictated by his father from Air Force One.) Don Jr. had told the Times: “It was a short, introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up. . . . I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.”
That evening, Hope Hicks phoned Corallo and, according to him, started berating him for the statement he had released. “What are you guys even doing talking to Circa? We had The New York Times handled.” Corallo was astonished: “You had it handled? You just made yourself a witness in a federal criminal investigation, because the statement you guys put out is not accurate.” Corallo said Hicks started crying and hung up.
The next day, a Sunday, Corallo was folding laundry when he got another call from Hicks, who put Trump on the line. They accused him of making a one-day story “bigger . . . than it is.” Corallo said, “Well, Mr. President, The New York Times is not going to stop reporting on this. This is not a one-day story, because the truth is going to come out, because there are documents, as I understand it, that will prove that the statement you guys put out was not accurate, and it’ll make it even bigger.”Hicks said, “Only a few people have [the emails]. They will never get out.” Corallo had had enough. “Mr. President, we can’t have this discussion without the lawyers. I am urging you to talk to your attorneys. . . . Please do not talk to me about this. Please protect the privilege.”
Trump told him, “I don’t know what the hell you are talking about.”
Corallo was correct. The Times published the emails on July 11 and Don Jr. had to scramble. Corallo had by now heard that Lowell had been seen lunching with a New York Times reporter the previous Thursday. He also heard that Lowell had been seen in the Times building. The legal team figured Lowell must have handed the emails to the Times. “Abbe’s timeline [to leak them] just got fast-forwarded by leaks,” one of the legal team members said. (Lowell denied leaking the emails.) They believed Lowell’s strategy was to sacrifice Don Jr. to give Kushner some cover. Over the weekend, Kushner had issued a statement stressing that he had only been a peripheral participant in the meeting.
“It was exactly what Abbe wanted,” speculated someone close to the president’s legal team. The story ran and ran. Trump was livid and kept asking who had leaked the emails. Bowe and Kasowitz heard that Kushner and Ivanka blamed them—and Corallo, who had never even seen the emails, heard they blamed him, too.
Don Jr. would be summoned to testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the Trump Tower meeting. He testified that it had not only been about an adoption program; rather, it also concerned a claim that “business people who were supporters of the DNC, and perhaps Hillary Clinton, were in some sort of tax scheme to avoid paying taxes in both the United States and Russia,” something he had not disclosed in his initial statement to the Times. In his testimony, he also said he did not know if his father had any involvement in his statement to the media.
Corallo was exasperated by this mess. “All to protect Jared and Ivanka,” he sighed. “Because if [Kushner] has to leave, then [Ivanka] has to leave.”
Excerpted from KUSHNER, INC.: The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump Copyright © 2019 by Vicky Ward and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.