Hicks tight-lipped in House interview, frustrating Democrats

Hicks tight-lipped in House interview, frustrating Democrats
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White House communications director Hope HicksHope Charlotte HicksJustice Dept releases another round of summaries from Mueller probe Former White House official won't testify, lawyer says Trump: 'Top shows' on Fox News, cable are 'Fair (or great)' to me MORE on Tuesday declined to answer some questions from the House Intelligence Committee about the presidential transition or her time in the White House, mirroring refusals from previous witnesses, according to multiple lawmakers.

According to Democratic lawmakers, Hicks demurred at the instruction of the White House but stopped short of formally invoking executive privilege.

“We got Bannon'ed,” Rep. Denny HeckDennis (Denny) Lynn HeckExclusive: Guccifer 2.0 hacked memos expand on Pennsylvania House races Heck enjoys second political wind Incoming lawmaker feeling a bit overwhelmed MORE (D-Wash.) told reporters, referring to former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who attempted to place similar limits on his testimony during two appearances before the panel in recent weeks.

Under pressure from lawmakers, Hicks agreed later in the day to answer some questions related to the transition period, according to Rep. Tom RooneyThomas (Tom) Joseph RooneyHouse Dem calls on lawmakers to 'insulate' election process following Mueller report Hill-HarrisX poll: 76 percent oppose Trump pardoning former campaign aides Dems fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons MORE (R-Fla.) — but only because she had already broached those matters in a previous interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

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“The White House hadn’t realized that she had testified before the Senate on those issues — so whatever she had testified before the Senate she can testify [to the House committee],” said Rep. Pete KingPeter (Pete) KingHouse GOP criticizes impeachment drive as distracting from national security issues Retiring lawmaker's 2018 opponent won't run for seat, citing 'difficult' pregnancies House panel advances flavored e-cigarette ban MORE (R-N.Y.), who said that there were phone calls between the White House and Hicks and her counsel during the interview. 

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Three legal scholars say Trump should be impeached; one thinks otherwise Poll: 46 percent of voters say Trump's Ukraine dealings constitute impeachable offense MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee, said that once Hicks got the green light from the White House she answered "many" questions about the Trump transition period. However, he said, she continued to refuse to answer questions about the administration as well as "key events such as the fabrication of that statement about the Trump Tower meeting."

"All our questions about what went into that statement went unanswered,” Schiff told reporters after the roughly nine-hour interview concluded.

Hicks has been linked to some of the mostly highly scrutinized incidents of the Trump campaign, including an infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting during which Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpWhite House calls Democratic witness's mentioning of president's youngest son 'classless' Lawmakers to watch during Wednesday's impeachment hearing Top Democrats knock Trump on World AIDS Day MORE met with a Russian lawyer with reported ties to the Kremlin.

Although Hicks was not present for that meeting, she reportedly helped draft Trump Jr.’s initial, misleading statement about the meeting that claimed he met with the lawyer to discuss Russian adoptions. News reports, however, later revealed Trump Jr. attended the meeting with the intention of obtaining dirt on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThree legal scholars say Trump should be impeached; one thinks otherwise Report: Barr attorney can't provide evidence Trump was set up by DOJ Jayapal pushes back on Gaetz's questioning of impeachment witness donations to Democrats MORE.

Even as Democratic lawmakers were filtering in and out of the closed-door interview expressing frustration, the White House insisted that it was cooperating fully with the committee’s investigation into Russia’s election interference.

“I’m not going to comment on any individual’s interactions with the committee,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday afternoon when asked whether the White House directed Hicks not to answer certain questions.

But, Sanders continued, “We are cooperating because, as the president said repeatedly, there is no collusion.”

Democrats complained bitterly that while Republicans were willing to subpoena Bannon to compel his testimony, they have shown no appetite to take that step with subsequent witnesses, including Hicks and former Trump campaign manager Corey LewandowskiCorey R. LewandowskiTrump on Harris dropping out of race: 'We will miss you Kamala!' Key takeaways from first public impeachment hearing Democrats face make-or-break moment on impeachment MORE. 

Schiff characterized this as the “Bannon rule,” where the majority seeks to shake down a witness for more information only if it is Bannon.

The California lawmaker complained that Republicans refused his calls to issue a subpoena on Hicks earlier in the interview when she refused to discuss the transition period.

"This is not executive privilege, this is executive stonewalling," he said.

Republicans sought to temper those criticisms, saying that Hicks is cooperating with their questions about the campaign and that she presents a different case than the firebrand former Breitbart News chief.

“There is one difference: She is still a White House employee. He wasn’t,” King said.

“Since she has decided to answer questions based on that transition, she can’t be compared to Bannon,” Rooney said, adding that she is not under subpoena like Bannon was.

Bannon ignited fury among committee Republicans in January — shortly after a public fallout with President TrumpDonald John TrumpStates slashed 4,400 environmental agency jobs in past decade: study Biden hammers Trump over video of world leaders mocking him Iran building hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq: report MORE over comments he made in the controversial book “Fire and Fury” — prompting them to issue a subpoena to compel him to provide more testimony. In his subsequent interview earlier this month, he invoked what both Democrats and Republicans described as effectively a form of executive privilege by only answering 25 yes or no questions scripted by the White House.

They argued that, as a private citizen, Bannon did not have the legal grounds to make such an assertion.

But Republicans have so far taken no steps to enforce the subpoena against Bannon by initiating contempt of Congress proceedings. Rep. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayLaughter erupts at hearing after Democrat fires back: Trump 'has 5 Pinocchios on a daily basis' Live coverage: Schiff closes with speech highlighting claims of Trump's corruption Live coverage: House holds third day of public impeachment hearings MORE (R-Texas), who is leading the committee’s investigation into Russian interference, told reporters on Tuesday that he has yet to speak to Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDuncan Hunter pleads guilty after changing plea Trump campaign steps up attacks on Biden Trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see, and hardly a voice of caution to be heard MORE (R-Wis.) about the matter.

Hicks has been one of Trump’s closest associates, following him from the campaign trail into the West Wing after previously working for his eldest daughter, Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpLawmakers introduce bipartisan bill to allow new parents to advance tax credits Jane Fonda says she feels 'sad' for Trump Hillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills MORE.

Although they insisted Hicks was forthcoming in answering questions about the campaign, some Republicans have continued to express discomfort with witnesses claiming executive privilege for the transition period, a claim that is without precedent.

Rooney, a senior member on the committee, said the basis for those refusals should be examined.

“I know you’re going to ask me about transition and what we’ve said about Bannon and that’s a legitimate concern,” Rooney told reporters. “What privilege is there with regard to transition and those questions need to be answered.”

The divide over the need to subpoena Hicks is the latest in the ongoing partisan breakdown on the intelligence panel.

“There’s no ‘hope’ to get all our answers,” quipped Rep. Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyDemocrats vow court victories won't slow impeachment timeline Most US birds are facing extinction unless we take action Pelosi: Trump tweets on Yovanovitch show his 'insecurity as an imposter' MORE (D-Ill.).