Former top White House adviser Hope Hicks is refusing to answer questions related to her time in the White House in an interview with the House Judiciary Committee, dimming Democrats’ chances of obtaining new or substantive information about President Donald Trump as part of their investigation into obstruction of justice.
Less than an hour into the interview, frustrated Democrats taking breaks from the meeting said Hicks and her lawyer were following White House orders to stay quiet about her time there working for Trump. She was answering some questions about her time on Trump’s campaign, the lawmakers said.
“She’s objecting to stuff that’s already in the public record,” said California Rep. Karen Bass. “It’s pretty ridiculous.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., called her answers “a farce.” California Rep. Ted Lieu tweeted about the interview, writing that Hicks refused to answer even innocuous questions such as whether she had previously testified before Congress.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., declined to comment on the substance of the interview so far, saying “all I’ll say is Ms. Hicks is answering questions put to her and the interview continues.”
Republicans had a different perspective, saying she was cooperative and that the interview was a waste of time. The top Republican on the panel, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, said they were “simply talking about things that are already out there in public or getting the same answers over and over.”
It was so far unclear whether Democrats would take Hicks or the administration to court to challenge the claim of immunity. In a letter Tuesday to Nadler, White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote that Trump had directed Hicks not to answer questions “relating to the time of her service as a senior adviser to the president.”
Cipollone said Hicks, as one of Trump’s former senior advisers, is “absolutely immune” from compelled testimony with respect to her service to the president because of the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. The White House has similarly cited broad executive privilege with respect to many of the Democrats’ investigative demands, using the president’s power to withhold information to protect the confidentiality of the Oval Office decision-making process.
Democrats say they disagree that Hicks’ answers are covered by such immunity or privilege, especially since she has already cooperated with Mueller.
Jayapal said that at one point Hicks started to answer a question, and the lawyers jumped in and said “we’re starting executive.”
“Basically, she can say her name,” Jayapal said.
As Hicks spoke to the lawmakers, Trump tweeted that the investigation is “extreme Presidential Harassment.” He wrote that Democrats “are very unhappy with the Mueller Report, so after almost 3 years, they want a Redo, or Do Over.”
Hicks is expected to answer some questions about her time on Trump’s campaign, but it was unclear how cooperative she will be. Jayapal said she told lawmakers that she would tell the truth.
Testimony from witnesses such as Hicks is one step in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s methodical approach to investigating Trump. More than 60 lawmakers in her caucus — including around a dozen on the Judiciary Committee — have called for opening an impeachment inquiry, but she has said she wants committees to investigate first and come to a decision on impeachment later.