WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s former aide Hope Hicks sat down with the House Judiciary Committee for nearly eight hours on Wednesday to answer questions about her time in the White House.
The former White House communications director, the first senior administration official mentioned in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report to appear before Congress, was subpoenaed because of her proximity to Trump. Most notably, the committee members wanted to know about several episodes described in the Mueller report as attempts to thwart the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
But throughout her marathon testimony, Hicks did not answer many questions related to her time in the Trump administration. Two White House lawyers were present during the testimony and often interjected with a quick “objection” to lawmakers’ questions.
In total, 155 questions went unanswered.
The queries she refused ranged from where her desk was in the White House to the president’s actions raised in Mueller’s report, according to a transcript published by the Judiciary Committee.
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Although the White House did not invoke executive privilege to block Hicks’ testimony, the lawyers, Michael Purpura and Patrick Philbin, noted that she “may not be compelled to speak about events that occurred during her service as a senior adviser to the President.”
“With all due respect, that is absolute nonsense as a matter of law,” House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., replied.
Hicks said she found it “odd” that Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, was asked to deliver a message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “unrecuse” himself from overseeing the Russia investigation.
Hicks was asked several times to read portions of Mueller’s report, such as an incident where Trump told Lewandowski to tell Sessions that if he delivered the remarks the president wanted, he would be the “most popular guy in the country.” However, when asked to verify the account, Hicks did not.
In another instance, Hicks was asked about a portion of the report that described her as trying to “throw herself between the reporters and the President” in order to stop parts of an interview Trump was having with the New York Times in which he bashed Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation.
When asked whether the account was accurate, lawyers objected to the question.
Hicks also did not answer any questions regarding Trump’s effort to have White House Counsel Don McGahn remove the special counsel, the resignation of former National Security Advisory Michael Flynn and Trump’s firing of former FBI director James Comey. She also did not answer a question about the president creating a statement in response to press coverage of a June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower. Top Trump officials, including the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., had a meeting with Russians offering dirt on Democrat Hillary Clinton.
She also refused to answer questions about conversations she had with the president.
Although she was able to answer how the weather was on her first day on the job (“cloudy,” she said) and where she had lunch (at her desk), Hicks did not answer whether Trump would come and speak to her during lunchtime.
Hicks, who was one of the president’s most trusted confidants, did talk briefly about her time on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, which she said felt “relief” after hacked information from top members of Hillary Clinton’s campaign was published by Wikileaks. She also defended the campaign’s use of the Wikileaks information, which Trump cited many times on the campaign trail.
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Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said little was learned from Hicks’ testimony. Nadler said he was satisfied in “some ways” with Hicks’ testimony, but said the blanket objection to answering questions would “not stand.”
The next step for Democrats, some committee members said Wednesday, is going to court and forcing Hicks and others to fully comply with subpoenas and answer questions, though Nadler did not say that was the next step for the committee.
Contributing: Bart Jansen and Christal Hayes
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