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Hicks Rebuffs Questions on Trump WH    06/20 06:15

   Former top White House adviser Hope Hicks refused to answer questions 
related to her time in the White House in a daylong interview with the House 
Judiciary Committee, dimming Democrats' chances of obtaining new or substantive 
information about President Donald Trump in their first interview with a person 
linked to his inner circle.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former top White House adviser Hope Hicks refused to 
answer questions related to her time in the White House in a daylong interview 
with the House Judiciary Committee, dimming Democrats' chances of obtaining new 
or substantive information about President Donald Trump in their first 
interview with a person linked to his inner circle.

   Frustrated Democrats leaving the meeting Wednesday said Hicks and her lawyer 
rigidly followed White House orders to stay quiet about her time there and said 
they would be forced to go to court to obtain answers.

   House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said Hicks' 
lawyers asserted the White House's principle that as one of Trump's close 
advisers she is "absolutely immune" from talking about her time there because 
of separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches. Nadler 
said that principle is "ridiculous" and Democrats intend to "destroy" it in 
court.

   Nadler said the committee plans to take the administration to court on the 
immunity issue, and Hicks' interview would be part of that litigation.

   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." The White House has similarly 
cited broad executive privilege with respect to many of the Democrats' other 
investigative demands, using the president's power to withhold information to 
protect the confidentiality of the Oval Office decision-making process.

   Hicks did answer some questions about her time on Trump's campaign, the 
lawmakers said, but they said they learned little that was new.

   "She's objecting to stuff that's already in the public record," California 
Rep. Karen Bass said on a break from the interview. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, 
D-Wash., called her answers "a farce."

   California Rep. Ted Lieu tweeted about the meeting while it was ongoing, 
writing that Hicks refused to answer even innocuous questions such as whether 
she had previously testified before Congress and where her office was located 
in the White House.

   In all, she was behind closed doors for eight hours, with an hourlong break 
for lunch.

   Democrats pressed Hicks on episodes she might have witnessed as one of 
Trump's closest advisers. During questioning about the campaign, Rep. Madeleine 
Dean, D-Pa., said she asked Hicks if she had been aware of any outreach from 
the Russians. After Hicks responded no, Dean named apparent contacts, such as 
emails, some of which are mentioned in special counsel Robert Mueller's report. 
Hicks said she hadn't thought those contacts were "relevant," according to Dean.

   Republicans had a different perspective, saying she was cooperative and the 
interview was a waste of time, especially in light of Mueller's two-year 
investigation. The top Republican on the panel, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, said 
after the interview that the committee "took eight hours to find out what 
really most of us knew at the beginning."

   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. The 
report examined several situations in which Trump attempted to influence or 
curtail Mueller's investigation.

   Democrats has planned to 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 planned to ask about Hicks' 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.

   One lawmaker who was in the room said Hicks would not answer many of those 
questions. The person requested anonymity to discuss the closed-door interview.

   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."

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

   House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is taking a 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.

   While Trump has continued to block their requests, Democrats have recently 
made some minor gains, such as the Justice Department's agreement to make some 
underlying evidence from Mueller's report available to committee members.

   The Judiciary panel wanted a higher-profile interview with Hicks, 
subpoenaing her for public testimony. But they agreed to the private interview 
after negotiations. A transcript of the session will be released in the coming 
days.

   The committee has also subpoenaed Hicks for documents, but she has only 
partially complied. She agreed to provide some information from her work on 
Trump's campaign, but none from her time at the White House because of the 
administration's objections.

   Also Wednesday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said 
Russia-born business executive Felix Sater will talk to House intelligence 
committee staff behind closed doors as part of its investigation into Russian 
election interference.

   Schiff wouldn't give a date for the interview, but another person familiar 
with the meeting said it will happen Friday. The person requested anonymity to 
discuss the private interview.

   Sater worked with Cohen on a Trump Tower deal in Moscow before the 2016 
election. The project was later abandoned.

   Schiff said the committee will also talk to "other witnesses related to 
Moscow Trump Tower" in future interviews.


(KA)

 
 
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