A veteran Washington operative who served two months as a spokesman for President Donald Trump’s legal team said he had a front row seat as the president was dragged into the special counsel investigation, and believes that Trump was repeatedly hampered by advisers who were at times “reckless” and “naive.”
Mark Corallo, a longtime crisis communications expert who worked at the Justice Department in George W. Bush’s administration, said in an interview on the ABC News podcast "The Investigation" that he believes the president was surrounded by inexperienced advisers who repeatedly placed him in legal jeopardy.
“That was my biggest concern,” Corallo said. “My concern was their attitude, it was reckless.”
“They were coming off a campaign that I think none of them expected to win... and I think they didn't have a lot of seasoned pros.”
“These guys were novices. I mean they were campaign neophytes,” he said.
Corallo said that he found it ironic that this lack of experience may have helped to ultimately persuade the special counsel team that some of President Trump’s actions during the Russia investigation were not designed to obstruct justice, but simply the product of inexperience.
“I think that Bob Mueller realized that these were just people who were naïve,” he said. “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.’”
Corallo said he was called in for questioning during the special counsel investigation to share his account of how Trump and his aides responded when reporters discovered several of the president’s closest advisers –- including Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner –- had met with Russians during the 2016 campaign after Trump Jr. had received emails promising “dirt” on Democrat Hillary Clinton. This grew to be known as the infamous Trump Tower meeting. At the time of the first reports, the White House issued a statement, crafted during a flight on Air Force One, that described the meeting as an innocuous discussion about Russian adoptions.
Corallo said he had not yet read the email sent to Trump Jr. on behalf of a Russian acquaintance, which led to the meeting, but he knew enough to know that the communications contained potentially damaging details about its actual purpose.
“When I saw a statement that was put out from Air Force One that was -- at best, inaccurate and, charitably, misleading -- I knew that this was problematic.”
“I think they believed that you can say anything to the press. You can lie to the press, it's no big deal,” he said.
A veteran of political skirmishes in D.C., Corallo has advised a range of clients on both ends of Pennsylvania Ave., including senior Republicans in Congress, one-time Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson and longtime Bush adviser Karl Rove. Corallo also worked closely with Mueller during his stint at the Department of Justice.
“I think that when you treat members of the media as if they are the enemy, you're making a big mistake,” he said, arguing that the American public, is ultimately who suffers when politicians lie to the press.
Corallo said that during his brief tenure advising Trump’s team he grew increasingly concerned that, as criminal inquiries progressed, White House aides continued to engage in discussions with the president about sensitive subjects without attorneys present –- meaning that those conversations would not be protected by attorney-client privilege.
“They were creating risk unnecessarily,” Corallo said. “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.”
Corallo said these concerns ultimately led him to resign as an advisor to Trump’s legal team after just two months.
Ultimately, Corallo said he is satisfied with the results of the special counsel probe, as outlined in the summary released on Sunday by Attorney General William Barr.
“I said to everybody from the outset you've got to trust whatever Bob Mueller comes up with,” Corallo said. “Bob Mueller is not going to pull punches.”