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Democrats bristle as Hicks appears for daylong Capitol Hill testimony
Former longtime Trump aide and White House communications director Hope Hicks spent nearly eight hours behind closed doors on Wednesday fielding a range of questions from the House Judiciary Committee about her time working for President Trump.
Hicks declined to answer questions about her time in the administration, according to lawmakers, a move that infuriated Democrats who hoped to get testimony about Trump's actions that special counsel Robert Mueller investigated as possible obstruction.
Democrats blasted the argument made by White House lawyers heading into the marathon interview that the president's former communications director was "absolutely immune" from giving congressional testimony about her work in the Trump White House.
Hicks was the first material witness to testify before the Judiciary Committee as part of the panel's sprawling investigation into alleged abuses of power and obstruction. Lawmakers used a subpoena to compel her appearance on Wednesday.
The former Trump aide's decision to follow the orders of both the White House and her personal counsel in limiting her testimony delivered a forceful blow to Democrats, who are eager to highlight the president's conduct as laid out in Mueller's report.
Democrats came out of the interview boiling, with some saying she refused to even answer questions about where her office was located in the White House.
"I've been watching obstruction of justice in action," Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) told reporters after two hours of questioning. "You have their White House serving 'absolute immunity,' which is not a thing -- it doesn't exist."
Hicks did answer some questions about her work for the Trump campaign, though lawmakers did not offer details on the substance of the questions or her responses, pointing to the release of the interview transcript which is expected to be made public on Friday.
"I thought it was a productive hearing, particularly with respect to some of the allegations in Volume I," said Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), referring to Mueller's report on Russian election interference. "Obviously, the White House's baseless objections, 'testimonial privilege,' that they attempted to assert is not a position that I think is tenable for them to take."
Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) told reporters Wednesday afternoon that Hicks gave the committee "good information" but blasted the White House's objections as ridiculous, suggesting the committee would go to court to challenge them.
"Hope Hicks answered some questions. She gave us a lot of good information. The White House asserted so-called absolute immunity, which is ridiculous and which we'll destroy in court," Nadler said, according to CNN.
Hicks said nothing as she entered and exited the hearing room in the Rayburn House Office Building while flanked by her attorney Robert Trout, ignoring a swarm of reporters who shouted questions at her.
Lawmakers entered and exited the hearing room throughout Hicks's daylong testimony, with the former Trump aide spending the whole day being questioned behind closed doors except for a brief lunch break.
As Hicks appeared on Capitol Hill, Trump sent a string of tweets in the morning and continuing into the afternoon ridiculing Democrats for attempting a "redo" of Mueller's probe by bringing in Hicks as a witness and claiming Mueller's report exonerated him.
Trump also accused Democrats of ignoring what he termed the "real obstruction" by his 2016 Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton and wrote that it was "so sad that the Democrats are putting wonderful Hope Hicks through hell."
Democrats could go to court to enforce the subpoena for testimony and documents from Hicks if they believe her appearance Wednesday was unsatisfactory, but it was unclear at the end of the day whether they would do so.
Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) said the Judiciary Committee is "prepared to do whatever we need to do" to get the information they have sought.
Republicans, meanwhile, blasted the hearing as a waste of time, with some stating that the interview failed to yield any new information and served as nothing more than a public relations stunt for Democrats.
"We took eight hours to find out what most of us knew at the beginning: There was not a lot here," Rep. Doug Collins (Ga.), the top Republican on the committee, told reporters after the hearing wrapped up.
"It's the subpoena-first mentality for this chairman, and we're just seeing that played out," he added.
Some Democrats echoed Collins in saying they didn't learn anything new.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), a member who has called for the committee to open an impeachment inquiry, told reporters "no" he had not learned anything new from Hicks's testimony because she only answered questions about her time on the campaign.
Cohen caveated that he had been in another congressional hearing for part of the Hicks interview, saying he could've missed previously unknown details.
Some GOP members sidestepped questions about whether the White House was acting appropriately in blocking her testimony, either declining to comment or stating that an opinion on the matter is outside their lane. Collins, however, expressed no qualms with how the interview was proceeding.
Democrats view Hicks, one of Trump's most veteran aides who first worked for him during his 2016 campaign, as a crucial witness as they look to drill down on details in Mueller's report. Hicks interviewed with Mueller as part of his investigation into Russian interference and her name appears nearly 200 times in the special counsel's report.
Democrats were hoping to question Hicks on five specific episodes of possible obstruction, in addition to the activities of the Trump campaign. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) also suggested Hicks answered questions about hush money payments made to women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump before the 2016 election, but offered no details about her testimony.
The committee and the White House clashed over Hicks's slated testimony on the eve of her return to Capitol Hill, with White House counsel Pat Cipollone writing to Nadler in a Tuesday letter that Trump had instructed Hicks not to answer questions about her time in the administration, arguing that she is "absolutely immune" from compelled congressional testimony about her work as a senior adviser to the president.
Cipollone also indicated the White House, which sent at least one lawyer to accompany Hicks on Wednesday, would prevent the former aide from discussing some of her work on the presidential transition.
Cipollone's letter cited various Office of Legal Counsel opinions in arguing that Hicks is immune from compelled testimony about her work in the White House, including one issued by the Justice Department in May that Trump cited when instructing former White House counsel Don McGahn not to testify before the committee pursuant to a subpoena.
The committee is expected to air some details about Hicks's testimony during an open hearing on Mueller's investigation Thursday, and a transcript is expected to be released in roughly 48 hours.