Democrats accuse ex-Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks of not answering questions in congressional testimony
Wednesday - 19/06/2019 12:14
Hicks’ name appears more than 180 times in the Mueller report’s text and footnotes.
WASHINGTON – Democratic members of Congress accused President Donald Trump's former spokeswoman Hope Hicks of pushing back on their inquiries during closed testimony Wednesday.
Hicks, Trump’s former White House communications director and campaign spokeswoman, is the first senior administration official mentioned in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report to testify before Congress.
The House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Hicks because of her proximity to Trump during several key episodes that Mueller’s report described as attempts to thwart the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The incidents include Trump helping draft the explanation about a Trump Tower meeting between top campaign officials and Russians, and his firing of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former FBI Director James Comey.
Mueller’s report found no conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russia, despite repeated foreign attempts to influence the election on Trump’s behalf. Mueller made no decision on whether to charge Trump with obstruction of justice despite 10 episodes of potential illegalities listed in the report.
A number of congressional Democrats on the committee say so far Hicks’ appearance amounts to her not complying with the subpoena. They claim she has not answered questions about her time in the White House or the findings outlined in the Mueller report. At every turn, lawyers for the administration object to questions and claim she is immune from answering anything related to her time in the White House, Democrats say.
She has, however, answered questions about her time on the Trump campaign.
Some Democrats say the hearing is only pushing them further down the path toward impeachment proceedings.
“This is an obstruction of Congress’ ability to do our job and uphold our oath. It’s unacceptable. We have to begin an inquiry soon,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Tex. “They’re not even allowing her to comment on what’s in a publicly available report, the Mueller report. It’s unbelievable.”
The next step for Democrats, they say, is going to court and forcing Hicks and others to fully comply with subpoenas and answer questions asked by the committee.
Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., said they are ready for a court battle.
“She is basically relying on the Department of Justice to assert objections every single time it’s related to anything during her tenure in the White House,” he said. “There is no such thing as absolute immunity. The White House is just making stuff up.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., said the process as a whole has been “frustrating,” saying Wednesday’s hearing amounted to another witness failing to comply.
“We have more lawlessness when it comes to witnesses refusing to testify, it’s frustrating,” said Swalwell, who is running for the Democratic nomination for the White House. “All this does is just take us back to the court and just waste the taxpayer’s dollars.”
Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the committee, said the hearing was a waste of time, an effort by Democrats to just redo the work of Mueller and his team.
“There’s nothing new here,” said Collins, R-Ga. “Democrats continue to try to re-litigate the Mueller investigation.”
Other Republicans agreed, saying there are other priorities that the committee should be investigating and holding hearings on.
Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, questioned why House Democrats believed that they would learn anything new that Mueller’s team didn’t already outline.
“I don’t know why we’re on a path to try and interview all of the witnesses that Bob Mueller has already interviewed,” he said, adding that so far it has been a futile effort that has wasted time.
Hicks, who left the White House in March 2018 and is now chief communications officer and executive vice president at Fox Corp., the parent company of Fox News and other networks, had agreed to appear before the Judiciary Committee for a transcribed interview behind closed doors. Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said a transcript will be made public.
Pat Cipollone, White House counsel, said in a letter Tuesday to Nadler that Hicks was immune from congressional subpoena for testimony about her work as a senior adviser to the president. Cipollone said one of his staffers would attend the interview to preserve the confidentiality of her work for Trump during the administration and even during the period between the election and inauguration because that work related to decisions Trump would make in office.
Nadler has dismissed claims of executive privilege or immunity for Trump administration witnesses by arguing that the president waived immunity by allowing top aides to speak with Mueller's team.