Dems to grill Hope Hicks on alleged Trump obstruction

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Hope Hicks

President Donald Trump points to Hope Hicks on her last day as White House communications director on March 29. | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

House Democrats intend to question former White House communications director Hope Hicks on Wednesday about five specific incidents that special counsel Robert Mueller detailed as part of his investigation into whether President Donald Trump tried to obstruct an investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, aides said.

The Judiciary Committee, which will hear from Hicks in a closed-door interview, also intends to ask the longtime Trump confidante about hush-money payments that prosecutors say Trump directed to women who planned to accuse him of extramarital affairs in the closing weeks of the 2016 campaign, including adult film star Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels.

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The transcript of Hicks’ sit-down with the committee is expected to be made public within 48 hours, an aide said.

The general focus of the interview, laid out by Democratic committee aides on Tuesday, could be interrupted by White House efforts to block Hicks from testifying about her tenure in the Trump administration, which they claim is subject to a broad interpretation of executive privilege.

Hicks was a firsthand witness to the fallout inside the West Wing after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, and after Mueller was appointed.

She told Mueller’s investigators that Trump despised the Russia investigation because it called into question the legitimacy of his victory. Hicks also provided crucial details about Trump’s efforts to thwart or constrain Mueller’s probe, including by pressuring then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse his recusal from overseeing the probe and then-White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller.

The committee’s decision to focus on the hush-money payments is notable because another investigative panel, the House Oversight and Reform Committee, has already been looking into the issue. In February, that committee heard from former Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, who arranged the payments to women who accused Trump of extramarital affairs.

Cohen is currently serving a three-year prison sentence for lying to Congress and various financial crimes.

A White House lawyer will be present for Hicks’ interview with the committee — an indication that the White House will try to block Hicks from answering questions related to her tenure as communications director.

But committee aides say they’ll require Trump to formally invoke executive privilege, rather than allow White House lawyers to simply hypothesize about it. If the White House doesn’t put those claims in writing, an aide said, “we’re not going to accept that as being satisfactory.”

Even then, the committee may attempt to force Hicks to answer questions about which they say executive privilege has already been waived — a nod to the fact that Trump allowed Hicks to testify without limits to Mueller’s team.

Though the Hicks transcript may take days to be released, Judiciary Committee members are likely to discuss some of her testimony publicly on Thursday, when the panel holds a follow-up hearing with legal experts to discuss the alleged obstruction episodes, as well as Trump’s recent comment that he’d accept dirt on his opponent from a foreign adversary in his 2020 race.

The White House previously blocked Hicks and other key Mueller witnesses from providing documents to the committee. It also has sought to block McGahn from testifying publicly. The committee is expected to go to court soon to secure McGahn’s testimony.

Hicks agreed to turn over documents pertaining to her service on Trump’s presidential campaign. But she acquiesced to the White House’s demand that she withhold documents related to her tenure as White House communications director.

She previously testified to the House Intelligence Committee as part of its 2018 Russia investigation, led by Republicans at the time, telling lawmakers that she sometimes told “white lies” on Trump’s behalf. Back then, Rep. Adam Schiff — the committee’s ranking member at the time — called on Republicans to subpoena Hicks, and possibly initiate contempt proceedings, over her refusal to discuss her White House tenure.

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