Donald Trump

House Democrats, White House Spar in Hope Hicks Interview

The transcript of Wednesday's interview is a preview of a court battle that Democrats have said is certain

Former top White House adviser Hope Hicks was blocked by President Donald Trump's lawyers from answering questions more than 150 times in an interview with the House Judiciary Committee, according to Democrats who released a 273-page transcript Thursday.

Hicks refused to answer any questions related to her time working for President Donald Trump after he was elected, following orders from White House lawyers. Administration lawyers even blocked a question about where Hicks' desk was located in the White House — but eventually allowed her to answer a question about the weather on her first day of working for Trump.

The transcript of Wednesday's interview is a preview of a court battle that Democrats have said is certain. The White House declared that Hicks was "absolutely immune" from discussing her time working at the White House because of separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches.

During the interview, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., told White House lawyers who blocked Hicks from answering questions that the immunity assertion is "absolute nonsense as a matter of law."

Later, he told the lawyers, after one of the objections: "I think we'll win in court on that one, but there's no point in wasting time on that now."

Hicks did answer questions about her time before and after she worked in the White House. But over and over, she declined to answer questions about her work for the president, with the lawyers present declaring, "objection."

"As a former senior adviser to the president, I'm following the instructions from the White House," she replied.

The interview frustrated Democrats who hoped to get more information about several episodes that special counsel Robert Mueller reviewed for obstruction of justice.

Hicks was a key witness for Mueller, delivering important information to the special counsel's office about multiple episodes involving the president. Mueller wrote in his report released in April that there was not enough evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump's 2016 campaign and Russia, but said he could not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice.

Hicks did discuss a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer, one of the key events Mueller examined in the part of his report dealing with Russian election interference. Emails leading up to the meeting had promised dirt on Democrat Hillary Clinton. Hicks said she learned of the meeting in June 2017, weeks before it became public in the news media.

Hicks also said she discussed with Trump his comment on the campaign trail that openly encouraged Russia to find Clinton's missing emails. She counseled him on the plane on their way to the next stop that "that some in the media had taken the expression quite literally" and considered it inappropriate.

"You know, it was my understanding from both the way he made the remark, and the discussions afterwards, that this was a little bit tongue-in-cheek," Hicks said. "This was not a comment that was intended as an instructive or a directive to a foreign government. It was a joke. And that was the intent, based on my conversation with him, and that was it."

Appearing to break with the president, Hicks at one point said she would not accept dirt on a political opponent from a foreign government and would not advise someone on a campaign to do so.

Trump last week said "of course" he'd listen to foreign dirt on an opponent. Later, after coming under heavy criticism, Trump said he would report the offer to the FBI.

During the interview, Hicks said she had no discussions during the campaign about Trump confidant Roger Stone, who was charged earlier this year with lying to Congress about his efforts to alert the Trump campaign to WikiLeaks' plans to release damaging information on Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Hicks said she also had no discussions about possible connections with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. She said that though she was with the president every day during the campaign, "the information I knew about WikiLeaks was what was publicly available."

In addition to looking at Russia, Mueller's report examined several situations in which Trump attempted to influence or curtail Mueller's investigation. Democrats asked ask Hicks about several of those episodes, including efforts to remove Mueller from the investigation, pressure on former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

They also asked Hicks about her knowledge of hush-money payments orchestrated by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump — the porn actress Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal. Trump has denied the allegations. Cohen is now serving three years in prison partly for campaign violations related to the payments.

Asked whether she had ever met Daniels or McDougal, Hicks replied: "No, sir. I was in high school in 2005."

As Hicks spoke to the committee, Trump tweeted throughout the day. He said the interview was "extreme Presidential Harassment," and wrote that Democrats "are very unhappy with the Mueller Report, so after almost 3 years, they want a Redo, or Do Over."

He also tweeted that it was "so sad that the Democrats are putting wonderful Hope Hicks through hell."

On Thursday, Trump said he heard Hicks was "terrific" in the interview.

Trump has broadly stonewalled House Democrats' investigations and said he will fight "all of the subpoenas." 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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