House Democrats erupted today at what they said was the White House’s repeated interference in their interview with Hope Hicks, a longtime confidante of President Trump who was a central witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s obstruction of justice investigation.
Several House Judiciary Committee members exiting the closed-door interview said a White House lawyer repeatedly claimed Hicks had blanket immunity from discussing her time in the White House.
They said she wouldn’t answer questions as basic as where she sat in the West Wing or whether she told the truth to Mueller.
“We’re watching obstruction of justice in action,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.).
“It’s a farce,” added Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who said Hicks at one point tried to answer a question about an episode involving former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski only to be cut off by the White House counsel.
“She made clear she wouldn’t answer a single question about her time unless the White House counsel told her it was okay,” an exasperated Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) said in an interview. “She couldn’t even characterize her testimony to the special counsel.”
Hicks worked for Trump before he declared his bid for office, served as press secretary on the Trump campaign and then served as White House communications director.
She is also mentioned more than 180 times in Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by Trump.
While Hicks largely stayed out of the limelight during her White House stint, administration insiders have long said that Hicks had Trump’s ear in a way that many others never could.
She acted as a gatekeeper of sorts and was often at Trump’s side, often a witness to Trump’s most unvarnished impulses.
Hicks was involved in responding to news articles about some of the most closely guarded secrets in Trump World, including hush-money payments that Democrats and federal prosecutors say constituted campaign finance violations.
Three days before the 2016 election, the Wall Street Journal reported that the National Enquirer had agreed to pay $150,000 to McDougal, who said she had an affair with Trump a decade earlier, but never ran a story.
Asked about the payment at the time, Hicks told the Journal: “We have no knowledge of any of this,” adding that McDougal’s claim of an affair was “totally untrue.”
In fact, Trump attorney Michael Cohen and David Pecker, chief executive of the magazine’s parent company, American Media Inc., acknowledged that Pecker agreed to pay McDougal as a way of securing her silence before the election.
Cohen — who pleaded guilty to a campaign finance violation in connection with the episode last year — said the deal was arranged at Trump’s direction.
Democrats are likely to ask Hicks whom she spoke to before issuing the denial of the Journal’s reporting and whether Trump was involved in the release of false information.
They could also inquire about any contacts she had directly with Pecker.
The Journal has reported that Hicks called Pecker to discuss the story before giving her statement to the Journal.
In March, Trump appeared to acknowledge the hush-money payments while insisting he had not violated campaign finance laws.