Hope Hicks arrives for closed-door House testimony

Hope HicksHope Charlotte HicksTrump shakes up WH communications team Meadows joins White House facing reelection challenges Trump aide asked Cabinet agencies to identify anti-Trump appointees: report MORE arrived Wednesday morning for closed door testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, the panel’s first major witness to testify as part of the committee’s sprawling investigation into President TrumpDonald John TrumpCDC updates website to remove dosage guidance on drug touted by Trump Trump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill MORE.

Hicks arrived shortly before 9 a.m. flanked by her attorney Bob Trout and others. She did not respond to questions yelled by reporters as she walked in, and Judiciary members remained tight-lipped as they entered the committee room.

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Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse Judiciary Committee postpones hearing with Barr amid coronavirus outbreak House Democrats plead with key committee chairman to allow remote voting amid coronavirus pandemic Pelosi rejects calls to shutter Capitol: 'We are the captains of this ship' MORE (D-N.Y.) followed closely behind Hicks and also did not speak as he entered the closed-door space.

Drama is likely to explode after the White House signaled on the eve of the interview that it would block Hicks, the president’s former communications director, from answering questions about her time in the White House, arguing she is immune from compelled congressional testimony.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone in a Tuesday letter to Nadler said Trump instructed Hicks not to answer questions about her time in the administration, which stretched until February of last year.

“Ms. Hicks is absolutely immune from being compelled to testify before Congress with respect to matters occurring during her service as a senior adviser to the President,” Cipollone wrote Tuesday.

“Because of this constitutional immunity, and in order to protect the prerogatives of the Office of the President, the President has directed Ms. Hicks not to answer questions before the Committee relating to the time of her service as a senior adviser to the President,” he continued.

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.

Democrats, who are eager to question the former administration and Trump campaign aide, are likely to be furious by the move as they accuse the White House of going to unprecedented lengths to stonewall their investigations.

Hicks was mentioned more than 180 times in special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s report, and she is seen as a key witness for Democrats as they move forward to investigate the episodes of potential obstruction of justice by Trump that are laid out in the report.

If Hicks declines to answer such questions, it could further escalate the already tense showdown between House Democrats and the White House. Democrats could also look to go to court to enforce the subpoena for documents and testimony from her.