House Democrats finally had the chance Wednesday to question a former member of President Trump’s inner circle about the findings of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report.
They didn’t get much.
Hope Hicks, acting under the direction of the White House, declined to answer questions in the closed-door hearing about her tenure as Trump’s communications director, according to members of the House Judiciary Committee.
“She’s refusing to testify on areas of interest including whether the president and his campaign worked with the Russians and whether he sought to cover that up,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) said.
Hicks’ refusal was not a surprise.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone wrote to Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the committee chairman, earlier Tuesday that Trump had directed Hicks not to answer questions “relating to the time of her service as a senior advisor to the president.”
Although Hicks is no longer in government, she said she would honor the president’s request, sparking complaints by Democrats on the panel.
“The White House has asserted a bizarre idea that anybody who worked for the White House can be prevented from talking to Congress on no basis whatsoever,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) said.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the committee, said Democrats knew Hicks would not discuss certain topics before her testimony.
“That was the agreement ahead of time and that makes sense,” he said.
Trump went on Twitter to denounce what he called a “rigged House committee,” repeating his charge that he was a victim of partisan investigations.
“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. “They were unhappy with result so they want a Do Over. Very unfair & costly to her. Will it ever end?”
During his investigation, Mueller questioned Hicks about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between three top Trump campaign aides and a Kremlin-backed Russian lawyer who had offered to provide derogatory information on Hillary Clinton.
When reporters asked about the meeting in July 2017, Trump directed Hicks to help issue a statement that falsely said the attendees primarily discussed a Russian ban on U.S. citizens adopting Russian children.
Democrats asked Hicks about the incident at Wednesday’s hearing, but she declined to answer. The committee plans to release a transcript by Friday.
Nadler vowed legal action to compel her testimony. House Democrats have gone to court several times this year, and won at least two rulings in their favor.
One of the battles was over Democrats’ demands to see the full Mueller report, and not the redacted version released to the public in mid-April.
On Wednesday, Democratic leaders said they will soon read a less-redacted version that the Justice Department provided during negotiations this month to prevent a contempt citation for Atty. Gen. William Barr.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who earlier said she would refuse to read material that wasn’t available to the public, said she reversed course because “I really don’t trust the attorney general of the United States.”
Pelosi left open the possibility that the Democratic investigations of Trump’s businesses, finances and administration may lead to impeachment proceedings.
“If you’re going to go down this path, you have to make sure that the public has an understanding of why,” Pelosi said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters.
She ruled out a congressional censure, an idea raised by Democrats who don’t support an impeachment inquiry, saying that if Democrats find evidence that Trump violated the Constitution, it warrants impeachment.
“If the goods are there, you must impeach,” she said. “If we decide that’s where we’re going … [censure is] a day at the beach for the president — or his golf club.”
Times staff writer Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report.