Transcript: Former Trump legal team spokesman Mark Corallo on ABC News' 'The Investigation' podcast

A transcript of Mark Corallo's interview as it appears in the latest episode.

ByABC News
March 27, 2019, 3:17 AM

Former Trump legal team spokesman Mark Corallo sat down for an interview for the latest episode of “The Investigation," a new ABC News podcast focused on the probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller. A transcript of Corallo's interview as it appears in the episode of the podcast follows here:

ABC NEWS' KYRA PHILLIPS: Mark, thanks for being with us.

MARK CORALLO: Great to be with you.

PHILLIPS: All right. Well the big story. The Mueller probe - it's over - has justice been served here?

CORALLO: Yeah, I think so. And you know, I said to everybody from the outset you've got to trust whatever Bob Mueller comes up with. Everybody knows, you know, that I hold Bob Mueller in high esteem. I worked with him. I think he's probably one of the most honest guys I've ever met. And you know one of the few true public servants I've ever known. So, you know, he's done his job as I knew he would thoroughly. Completely. He followed every fact. And he came up with the conclusions that I think that a lot of us expected - that there wasn't going to be any finding of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. And you know that - it just took a long time. But that's because he's thorough. And it's because people definitely I'm sure resisted talking to him and I'm sure there were plenty of people who as we've seen didn't tell the truth.

PHILLIPS: You didn't resist talking to him.

CORALLO: No, I never would. You know, I had nothing to hide. I knew that the kind of operation that Bob Mueller runs is not about trapping people, it's not about setting up perjury traps, or trying to get somebody - he wants to know the facts he wants to get the - to the bottom of the story. And he does. And so, I knew when I went in, I had nothing to worry about.

PHILLIPS: What did he ask you?

CORALLO: He asked me about my time working on the president's legal team. He asked me specifically about I should say, they asked, me specifically about the Air Force One statement. You know the statement that was done when the president and his team were coming back from the G 20, you know, regarding the Trump Tower meeting during the campaign. And, you know, I just told him about my role. You know, I think he - they had seen the story in The New York Times about my resignation from the legal team and they just sort of wanted to hear the full explanation as to why I left. You know there were rumors that I had witnessed obstruction of justice and I wanted to make sure that that was not, you know, that that was not the case and that was not what the New York Times story said, it's not what. It's not anything I had ever said. And you know there were political types who were reading into it and trying to read between the lines because that was the nature of this whole story. And I was you know just fortunate to go in and just be able to answer their questions.

ABC NEWS' CHRIS VLASTO: But what do you think this on the obstructions this whole idea - especially the part you were in. Were the Trump people just on that airplane, on the airplane story or at the end of the day, I think maybe I’m reading into the report where it says they couldn’t come to a conclusion on obstruction. Is that because maybe Bob Mueller believed these people didn’t deliberately do it?

PHILLIPS: And when you say the plane—you’re talking about the statement that was reportedly written aboard Air Force 1, right? about the infamous Trump tower meeting with this Russian lawyer who was promising dirt on Hillary Clinton? I mean, the statement said in the meeting they, quote: “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children.”

CORALLO: So, we were cut out of that whole process. So, we, we knew that there were reporters in town who had some inkling of this story about the Trump Tower meeting with Don Jr. and Jared and Manafort etc. And you know, we had our opinions on how it should be handled. We never saw the documents. I - The lawyers may have seen the documents. I never saw the you know the infamous Donald Trump Jr. e-mails - to this day I've never seen the actual e-mails. I've seen copies of them you know, that were reprinted. And so, I didn't know exactly what was in them, I knew that they had to do something with a meeting with Russians who represented themselves as being representatives of the Russian government and who had dirt on Hillary Clinton. So, that's what I knew and when I saw a statement that was put out from Air Force One that was, you know, at best inaccurate and charitably misleading. I knew that this was problematic. And that's and OK it's about dirt on Hillary Clinton. This is a, it was a campaign. These guys were novices. I mean, you know, they were campaign neophytes. They didn't have an oppo-research operation. They didn’t have, you know, like when I when I was at the RNC during the 2000 campaign, you know, we had lawyers involved who understood, you know, what the bright lines were. You know? Like we would have known if some, you know, some hostile foreign government approached us with dirt on the on the, on the opponent we would call the FBI, but we would have known that - they didn't know that. They just thought hey we're, we're flying by the seat of our pants.

VLASTO: Great.

CORALLO: Cool. We need dirt. Right. I mean great right.

VLASTO: Free oppo-research


ABC NEWS' MATT MOSK: But that was a bad fact for them, I mean, that was a bad fact for them. In that moment.

CORALLO: It was a bad fact for them at the moment. You know when you're saying no collusion, no collusion, no collusion. And then this pops up. It is absolutely legitimate for the public to say, well that looks like collusion. Right? But it actually had an explanation. I think the public would have read into it that there might have been obstruction. I think that Bob Mueller realized that these were just people who were naive. I think you know one of the things I had said to the president when I first met him and I’ve maintained is that - he had a right to feel aggrieved. I mean the man walked into the office and was immediately under investigation. The way Jim Comey treated him was not the way an FBI director should treat any president of the United States regardless of how you feel about him or his politics or his bearing. I think you had a White House staff that was on edge. And I think that they also, not being of Washington, not understanding how investigations work. I think they believed that you can say anything to the press. You can lie to the press, it's no big deal, we just get our message out. There's no big deal there right? They can't put you in jail for lying to the press. And you know my feeling was that, you know, the press has a special role in our constitutional republic. I think that when you treat members of the media as if they are the enemy. You're making a big mistake. You can absolutely have an understanding that the media has their own biases. We're all human, we all have our own biases. I think you know there's plenty of reporters who have brought those biases into their reporting. But, regardless, you don't lie to the press because when you're lying to the press, you’re lying to the people, you're lying to the people who pay your salary. If you are a White House employee on the, on the staff of the president of the United States you work for me, the taxpayer.

MOSK: And was that a culture that you witnessed? Was that something you, that concerned you?

CORALLO: Yeah, I was, that was my biggest concern, my concern was their attitude, it was reckless. My concern was that they were really reckless was that they, you know, they were coming off a campaign - that I think none of them expected to win. I think they felt that everybody was against them - I'll yell my lies and they'll yell their lies and whatever. And it made me very nervous that you know that this was, you know, you had two investigations going on. You had a counterintelligence investigation, which can be very wide ranging because the rules are different and you had a criminal investigation a federal, criminal investigation. And everybody that was talking about this investigation in the White House were making themselves witnesses. And I would look at these young kids and I would think, and the other White House staff, and I would think - every time somebody wants to engage you on this, you should put your hands in your ear and say I’m not getting involved. That's not my job

MOSK: So I want to ask you because you've now suggested that the Trump White House has naiveté, maybe some recklessness especially with the facts? Are they out of legal trouble now?

CORALLO: I mean from my opinion they are. Yeah, I think they're out of legal trouble. You know I think that again Bob Mueller is not going to pull punches.

VLASTO: Yeah but why do you think Bob Muller punted in making the decision on the obstruction part. He's clear on the, on the collusion. Crystal clear. But then you look at the obstruction and why did he say we couldn't come to a determination whether to prosecute or exonerate?

CORALLO: I think it came down to hard evidence. I think that he actually and you know I shouldn't be getting in the mind of Bob Mueller and his team. But I would like to believe that they looked at the facts and said well, these people didn't even know how to obstruct. I think they were just trying to avoid embarrassment.

VLASTO: Kill a news story.

CORALLO: Kill a news story right. We can kill this in one day, it's going to be a one-day story and you know which led to me laughing at people thinking, Oh sure that’s a one-day story.

MOSK: Did the attacks on the FBI and the Justice Department and the Mueller team - did that bother you when you saw that as a tactic or as a strategy?

CORALLO: Well that's so. I mean the. Yeah, I was always against it. You can complain and criticize about tactics. Right? But until somebody shows themselves to be you know unworthy of your trust, to have a – to have a lack of integrity. You ought to keep the gloves on. Enough. And you know one of my one of my conditions for taking that job was that I would never have anything to do with any attempts to attack Bob Mueller's integrity - personal or professional.

PHILLIPS: Is that why you left?

CORALLO: That was my ultimate reason for leaving so this you know it was it was a pretty short space of time - when this Air Force One thing happened that really got me nervous, just at the way they approached it, that this is not the way that the president the United States and his team should treat the American people.

PHILLIPS: Do you respect Donald Trump?

CORALLO: You know I have mixed feelings about the president. You know there are policy wise there are things that I that I love that he's done, there's things that I can't stand that he's done. There are things that he says, you know, whether he's cozying up to Putin or Kim Jong Un. I mean, you should never put the prestige of the United States and the integrity of the United States at risk with these international thugs. I think the president loves his country. I think he loves America and he wants to do really good things for it. I don't think he really understands America. I think that the president, like other members of his family, and a lot of people around him see America in terms of dollars and cents. We're not an economy, we're not just an economy we're a nation.

VLASTO: Which brings up a kind of a separate subject your name is in a new book that's come out by Vicky Ward - she was a guest on this podcast and as we said that book paints a very unflattering portrait of Jared and Ivanka - talk about transactional people. And so I mean and you really went up against Jared?

CORALLO: So, I mean I guess when I was still in Jared's good graces - Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon and others in the White House had been asking me to become the new communications director and spokesman for the White House. And I turned them down, because I kept my promise to my family. That I was never going to go back into government again, that was that. And they kind of kept beating on me and beating on me. Day after day and I just kept saying no and it became sort of an inside joke. One day, I was in Reince Priebus’ office with Reince and Steve and they were asking me about other potential candidates for the communications director job. And I was sort of just giving my offhanded opinions of this person, that person, whoever else. And Jared walked in and said hey you know what are you guys talking about? And Steve said, oh you know get Mark's opinion on this person, that person for the communications director job and Jared very nicely said, well you know if Mark would just relent and say yes we wouldn't be having this conversation. And I just said well you know Jared I'm flattered as usual you know I just. But as you know I've promised I'm not, I my promised my wife and my family I'm never doing this again. So, I really appreciate it, but no thanks. And he said, don't you want to serve your country?

PHILLIPS: To a military man.

CORALLO: I think with a smile on my face and very calmly just said to him young man my three years at the butt end of an M 16 check that block. And you know, I think that it just showed a total lack of awareness.

PHILLIPS: So how much power does Jared and Ivanka have?

CORALLO: I think they have an inordinate amount of influence. I think that look – I’ll put it this way --

PHILLIPS: Is that dangerous? is that smart?

CORALLO: No, I think it's, I think it's un-American in some ways. Look.

PHILLIPS: Why. Why is it un-American?

CORALLO: Because I think - I had nothing against Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. They were you know lovely people all of that. What bothers me is that we should try to be consistent. If Hillary Clinton had won the election and installed Chelsea as one of her senior advisers, every Republican in town would be screaming bloody murder, nepotism, nepotism. You're just building a resume. If I’m the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, former chief executive officer and chairman of Exxon Mobil and I have to answer to a 35-year-old with --

VLASTO: With no foreign policy experience.

CORALLO: With no foreign policy experience, on the Middle East peace process. I mean you shouldn’t bring your family into the White House.

MOSK: You said that’s un-American, you know, that's a pretty substantial.

CORALLO: Yeah because I think that we don't create royal families, we don't do dynasties.

VLASTO: You don't think there's another act in there? Do you? I mean I've been saying that with the end of Mueller - that the next chapter and the next problem for Donald Trump could be these other investigations including did Jared - I mean going back to Vicky Ward book she makes allegations in that book that Jared Kushner was using the White House to help his own business dealings of 666 5th Avenue. That's not part of Bob Mueller’s purview. That needs to be investigated. I would think.

CORALLO: Yeah, I mean, and I would think that if there's a hint of evidence that whoever is the appropriate authorized US attorney with jurisdiction will investigate it and it should be. I mean I don't think that we should ever have anyone using their position at the White House, in Congress, at any of the agencies, to enrich themselves.

MOSK: Bill Barr's letter did say that Bob Mueller had referred several matters to other offices for further investigation. If Bob Mueller saw something he thought was potentially criminal activity how would he handle that, do you think?

CORALLO: Exactly the way he said he did. He would refer it to the appropriate U.S. attorney. I said there was one-foot fault that I thought Bob had and that was the Manafort prosecution. I think he should have just dished that off to the appropriate U.S. attorneys. I think he shouldn’t have done it in-house. His mandate was to investigate potential collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, and he should have stuck to that and when you look at, for instance, the Michael Cohen prosecution that's exactly what he did. He said OK well I'm not touching this one. This is outside my purview. I'm going to give it to the appropriate authorities in New York.

VLASTO: The president asked recently what he thought of Bob Mueller and he said he acted honorably.

CORALLO: The most honorable witch hunt in history.

PHILLIPS: Honorably after ripping him a part. Exactly. Yes exactly how many tweets over the past two years? I mean.

CORALLO: The first time I met the president. You know he asked me about Bob Mueller and I said Mr. President, you know, I'm not a big fan of special counsels - matter of fact I really can't stand them. But if you had to get one, you drew the right one. If you get a clean bill of health from Bob Mueller That's the gold standard. You are--

MOSK: What's going to happen with the House Democrats? Imagine for us what that looks like. If they call Bob Mueller to testify before them how will he handle that? What will that look like?

CORALLO: He will be respectful. He will answer their questions. He will keep his remarks based of facts. And it will be frustrating for Congress and Democrats will do exactly what Republicans would have done in the same situation. They'll overplay their hand. You know, I, when I got my letter from Chairman Nadler, you know, my brother calls me because he'd seen my name in the paper and then he started ranting and raving, ah this is garbage. You know, what are you doing? With these guys, these Democrats and I said hey, hey if I was there, we'd be doing the same thing. You know this is politics.

VLASTO: The reason why they're sending you a letter, the Democrats, not just about the Air Force One meeting but I think you had another conversation, right? With the president?


VLASTO: And hope Hicks?

CORALLO: Correct.

VLASTO: I think there's some disagreement there?


VLSATO: Can you walk me through that?

CORALLO: Sure. So, on that evening when I sort of - I think it was like July 8th or something. My phone starts going off the hook, because I guess the New York Times is breaking the story, and we didn't even know the New York Times was following the story, which is a whole other story. Any rate. And then my phone rings and it's Hope Hicks. So, she just started laying into me. And, then she admitted that yes, they had crafted this statement on Air Force One and that they'd handled it. You know, she said, I had the New York Times handled and I'm going - you did? You work in the White House. This is a private matter. This is not the president's conduct of his office. This is matters to do with him as a private citizen, really, not even him. This has to do with his son, son in law, and former campaign director. So, so I just I listened to her yell and then I said well you know you've probably made yourself a witness in a federal criminal investigation. Way to go, young lady. The next day I was home and the phone rings again. And it's the White House. I'd pick it up and it’s Hope. And she says you know hold for a moment for the president. Oh. Great. Now, they're both going to rip into me, so they both start to sort of lay into me and he's laying into me for, for you know who approved this statement. I said, "Mr. President please talk to your lawyers about this. Don't talk to me about this. Talk to your lawyers." You know, I was very aware that there were no lawyers on that conversation, on the phone. A bedrock principle of our legal system is the attorney client privilege. And I was just very aware that without an attorney on the phone, there was no privilege not to mention the fact, that there was no executive privilege because I don't work for the White House.

MOSK: So, when you talk about recklessness you're talking about situations like this where they are creating risk unnecessarily?

CORALLO: They are creating risk unnecessarily. The idea that a 20-something press aide would put the president of the United States on the phone to talk about a federal criminal investigation, without his attorneys on the phone, to protect the privilege and that the president wasn't aware of it was just astounding to me. And terrifying. And I just pointed out that the statement that they put out on Air Force One or from Air Force One was inaccurate. That this was not going to go away. And because it was inaccurate, an inaccurate statement - it was only going to inflame the story over the next few days and eventually the New York Times and every other, you know, media outlet was going to get the truth and then they were going to look, well, the way they did. Like they were trying to hide something.

VLASTO: And made the Mueller Investigation blow up after that


VLASTO: That was the fuse.

CORALLO: Yeah and so I pointed out that the statement was inaccurate and that there were documents, that I understood there were documents that would prove that. Hope Hicks replied to me when I, when I said look there are you know there are documents. She said, well nobody's ever going to see those documents. Which you know made my throat dry up immediately. And I just - at that point I just said, Mr. President we can't talk about this anymore. You got to talk to your lawyers. And for me, it was just the fact that she was even A. that you would say something like that in the presence of the president the United States. That you would not be aware that that could be construed as obstruction. Right? The threat to withhold documents? Like what does that mean that no one's ever going to see them? What are you gonna destroy them? She showed a complete lack of understanding of the situation and was completely in over her head.

VLSATO: Right. But it's not criminal, but it goes back to what you were saying before.

CORALLO: Right. It’s not, it’s not.

VLASTO: Sometimes you have to show criminal intent.

CORALLO: Right. I wasn't really worried as much about the stakes in a criminal investigation. I was more worried about a potential impeachment down the road. And, you know, that's the kind of thing that definitely goes to, you know, impeachable offenses. If you're going to, if you're going to charge impeachable offenses in articles of impeachment. Those are the kinds of stories that come up.

MOSK: And this I assume came up in your interview with the special counsel?

CORALLO: Yeah. Oh absolutely. They wanted to know, and they asked me, and they said well you know Miss Hicks says that that didn't happen. And they asked me how sure I was, and I said 100 percent. You know, I mean look - this was, you know, again I've used the word reckless over and over again. It was reckless.

PHILLIPS: So, should we be able to see the entire report?

CORALLO: I think we should see the entire report. I think even more importantly, and I'd urged this early on - the president should have declassified it or should now declassify everything. We all have a right to know. This is - we've gotten to a point in America where we just sort of knee jerk - oh well if the FBI says it's this way then it must be because they're all great guys and you know the Justice Department says it's this way oh then well you know what would their -

PHILLIPS: Are you talking about the source material as well?

CORALLO: I'm talking about all –

PHILLIPS: Cause, no White House would ever want to release source material.

CORALLO: I mean, I think that we the people have a right to know.


CORALLO: I think that we're at a point where if we're going to trust our institutions, then the best thing is right? Sunlight. Let's put it all out, let us judge, right?

MOSK: Are there people in the White House who share your view do you think or are you strictly an outsider at this point?

CORALLO: Well, I’m an outsider. I mean, I know that the folks that were there, some of the folks that were there at the time agreed with me that yeah we should just put it all out. I don't know. I mean I just I think that it would just that that would help. I think that in the end it would help us all.

PHILLIPS: How about pardons. Is Trump going to pardon any of his associates?

CORALLO: I mean, I think there's a possibility somebody like Mike Flynn could get a pardon.

VLASTO: Or how about even a Roger Stone?

CORALLO: You know -

VLASTO: Lying about something that there was no collusion.

CORALLO: Collusion. Yeah, I mean that's - it could be. Right? You know that's possible you know I think that --

MOSK: If you were advising the president you could sell that right now?

VLASTO: Mike Flynn?

CORALLO: I don't know enough about the Roger Stone case. But I mean on Mike Flynn, I would say, you know, that was a foot fault and a setup. You know, Mike Flynn should never have been - gone out on the campaign trail right. He never should have been out doing the lock her up stuff. I mean that's sort of un-befitting of a lieutenant general. But he's a good man and a patriot and a combat veteran and a guy who served this country for 30 plus years with everything he had. Hey man - that's a guy who they ought to look at and say hey, you know, is he deserving of pardon. I think he is.

VLASTO: All right. I think that's a perfect way to end. Thank you very much Mark Corallo.

PHILLIPS: Thanks very much.

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