Former Trump aide Hope Hicks agrees to Judiciary interview
WASHINGTON (AP) — Former White House communications director Hope Hicks has agreed to a closed-door interview with the House Judiciary Committee, the panel announced Wednesday, a breakthrough for Democrats who have been frustrated by President Donald Trump’s broad stonewalling of their investigations.
The Judiciary panel subpoenaed Hicks, a close and trusted Trump aide who worked for the presidential campaign and in the White House, last month as part of its investigation into special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and obstruction of justice. Her June 19 interview will mark the first time a former Trump aide has testified before the panel as part of its probe.
Hicks was a key witness for Mueller, delivering important information to the special counsel’s office about multiple episodes involving the president. That includes the president’s role in the drafting of a misleading and incomplete statement about a 2016 Trump Tower meeting at which Donald Trump Jr. expected to receive dirt on Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Hicks and another former White House aide, Annie Donaldson, both defied subpoenas last week to provide documents to the committee after the White House directed them not to cooperate. That came after former White House counsel Don McGahn also defied subpoenas for documents and testimony at the direction of the White House. McGahn was mentioned frequently in Mueller’s report, in addition to Donaldson, who was his aide.
It is unclear whether Hicks will decline to answer some questions related to her time in the White House. She has so far declined to release any documents related to that period after the White House said she had no legal right to provide them. But she has turned over documents related to her time on the Trump campaign.
While the interview will be behind closed doors, the committee chairman, Jerrold Nadler, said the interview transcript will be released to the public.
“It is important to hear from Ms. Hicks, who was a key witness for the special counsel,” Nadler said. “Ms. Hicks understands that the committee will be free to pose questions as it sees fit.”
Democrats hope that Hicks’ interview will be the first of many related to Mueller’s report. They are expected to go to court soon to enforce a subpoena against McGahn, and negotiations are ongoing for Mueller’s own testimony.
Mueller has made it clear that he doesn’t want to testify and will not go beyond the substance of the report in any questioning, but Democrats want to talk to him anyway.
Nadler said Tuesday that he also hopes to call in Jody Hunt, who served as former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff, and former White House aide Rick Dearborn.
Absent key witnesses, Democrats have so far held hearings with issue experts to review Mueller’s report, which examined Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump obstructed justice as he tried to undermine the probe.
On Wednesday, the House intelligence panel heard from former FBI officials who told lawmakers that Russian meddling in the 2016 election bore some of the textbook tricks of the trade of Kremlin spycraft, including the volume and breadth of contacts with Trump associates.
After that hearing, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., threatened to subpoena FBI Director Christopher Wray for information related to the bureau’s counterintelligence investigation into the Russian interference.
Schiff said he has unsuccessfully sought more information about that investigation and any links to Trump’s campaign, including whether that probe is still active. The investigation was first disclosed by then-FBI Director James Comey at a committee hearing in March 2017, and Schiff said he has received few answers about it since Comey was fired by Trump two months later.
Schiff wants to know whether the FBI is still conducting any related counterintelligence investigations. Such inquiries can take years and extend far beyond a criminal probe.
“We are determined to get answers, and we are running out of patience,” Schiff said. “If necessary, we’ll subpoena the director and require him to come in and provide those answers under oath.”
The two witnesses at the hearing, Robert Anderson and Stephanie Douglas, highlighted aspects of the Mueller report they said showed Russian efforts to screen and test Trump campaign associates, to establish backchannels of communications and to spread their contacts around in hopes of maximizing their chances of getting what they wanted.
Mueller did not find a criminal conspiracy between the campaign and Russia, but he did detail a series of interactions and outreach that has alarmed Democrats and accelerated calls from some in the party for impeachment proceedings and renewed investigations.
Also Wednesday, Trump Jr. spoke with the Senate Intelligence Committee for about three hours to clarify an interview with the committee’s staff in 2017. Senators wanted to talk to him again about the Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer and a Trump real estate project in Moscow.
The president’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, told a House committee in February that he had briefed Trump Jr. approximately 10 times about a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow before the 2016 election. But Trump Jr. had told Congress he was only “peripherally aware” of the real estate proposal.
As he left the interview, Trump Jr. said he was happy to clarify his answers, but “I don’t think I changed any of what I said because there was nothing to change.”