After months of futile efforts, House Democrats finally procured a top witness from President Trump’s inner orbit. Hope Hicks, Trump’s 30-year-old former communications director, arrived on Capitol Hill Wednesday for a closed-door interview with members of the House Judiciary Committee.
Hicks spent approximately eight hours on Capitol Hill. But any anticipation about new revelations she could provide were quickly replaced by frustration after the White House refused to let her answer questions about her tenure there.
“The White House is just making crap up to keep her from testifying,” fumed California Rep. Ted Lieu as he emerged from the room where she was being interviewed.
Democrats were aware that the White House was planning on limiting Hicks’ testimony to her roles with the Trump campaign and transition team; White House Counsel Pat Cipollone sent a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler Tuesday stating that Hicks was immune from being forced to testify about her time in the White House. But that didn’t stop Democrats from venting their frustrations.
“They’re even objecting to her saying whether or not she told the truth to the Special Counsel. They object to her answering the question of where she sat relative to the Oval Office,” said an exasperated Rep. Pramila Jayapal. “Basically she can say her name.”
Hicks did answer questions about her role with the Trump campaign, said several lawmakers. Rep. David Cicilline said the questions about the campaign broadly centered on WikiLeaks and other attempts from the Russians to intervene. But both Republicans and Democrats conceded that two hours into the interview, no new information had come to light. While Democrats cautioned that it was still early in the day, Republicans cautioned that it was just another example of Democrats trying to make something out of nothing.
“There’s nothing new here. What was in the report is in the report,” said Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the committee. “Ms. Hicks’ testimony has been consistent with that.”
Collins’ sentiments were echoed by Trump. “So sad that the Democrats are putting wonderful Hope Hicks through hell, for 3 years now, after total exoneration by Robert Mueller & the Mueller Report,” he tweeted Wednesday afternoon. “They were unhappy with result so they want a Do Over. Very unfair & costly to her. Will it ever end?”
Hicks, flanked by her attorney, did not take questions from the press while she was on Capitol Hill.
A key witness for former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Hicks was present or involved in major events that factored into his investigation, including Trump’s issuing a misleading statement on a meeting with Russian nationals at Trump Tower in 2016, his efforts to compel then-White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller in 2017 and his anger at then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal.
In total, Mueller mentioned Hicks’ name over 180 times in the report.
Democratic aides on the committee said Tuesday they planned on using their time to question Hicks about several topics: What she knew about the hush money payments Trump made to his former attorney Michael Cohen to hide alleged extramarital affairs, Trump’s attempt to fire McGahn, his firing of former FBI Director James Comey, his conduct towards his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and his anger at Sessions.
With the exception of the hush money payments – which, according to the Wall Street Journal, is still being investigated by federal prosecutors in New York City even though Cohen pleaded guilty – much of these topics were laid out in Mueller’s report, rendering it unclear what new information could surface. But before Democrats could find out, Cipollone informed Nadler Hicks would be immune from testimony about her White House tenure – effectively barring her from the incidents with McGahn and Sessions Democratic lawmakers are most interested in.
“The longstanding principle of immunity for senior advisers to the President is firmly rooted in the Constitution’s separation of powers and protects the core function of the presidency, and we are adhering to this well established precedent in order to ensure that future Presidents can effectively execute the responsibilities of the Office of the President,” Cipollone wrote.
Hicks left the White House last year, but she had been by the President’s side since he launched his candidacy in 2015, and had worked for the Trump Organization before that. The judiciary committee had issued a subpoena for Hicks last month for both documents and testimony from her time working for Trump. Although she declined to hand over documents from her tenure in the Administration — her attorney explained in a letter to Nadler that the White House instructed her not to — she did provide information from the campaign, and agreed to sit for the closed interview. In October of 2018, Hicks landed a job as Communications Chief at Fox.
Hicks’ appearance, even behind closed doors, had been hailed as a breakthrough for the committee, who has been struggling to compel key figures to cooperate with their investigation into Trump and whether he obstructed justice or abused the powers of his office. The limitations the White House subsequently placed on her testimony highlights the Administration’s effectiveness in stonewalling Congressional oversight probes.
Democrats on the committee, however, are convinced the fight to get answers from Hicks is not over, and will likely end up in court.
“The court’s going to make her comply,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat running for president in 2020. “She’s going to have to answer these questions anyway.”