The transcript of Hope Hicks’ all-day Wednesday interview in front of the House Judiciary Committee, released to the public on Thursday afternoon, confirmed what Democratic lawmakers grumbled as they streamed out of the hearing room: She wasn’t much help.
During the course of the eight-hour examination, Hicks’ legal team repeatedly invoked a claim of “absolute immunity” and blocked her response to questions by objecting in 155 separate instances, according to a tally from the Judiciary Committee’s Democrats.
Hicks, a loyal and long-serving aide of President Donald Trump, was directed by the White House not to answer questions related to her time in the administration. That meant she declined to offer any additional information about instances of possible obstruction of justice raised in Robert Mueller’s report, such as Trump’s firing of former FBI director James Comey and the president’s attempts to fire Mueller.
Perhaps the only nugget of information that Democrats mined from Hicks related to Mueller was an admission from the former communications aide that she found it “odd” that Trump requested Corey Lewandowski, his former campaign manager and not a White House employee, deliver a letter to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructing him to give a speech undermining the Mueller investigation.
The legal team on hand for Hicks — which included two of her personal attorneys and three attorneys from the administration — blocked questions even tangentially related to her White House service, including where she sat relative to the Oval Office.
At one point, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) asked Hicks basic questions — what the weather was like on her first day at the White House, for example — “to show how absurd the objections from the White House actually are.” Hicks said it was cloudy; she was soon blocked from answering if the president ever talked to her during lunchtime.
As The Daily Beast reported on Wednesday, Democrats also asked Hicks to read portions of the Mueller report into the record — which prompted objections from Hicks’ counsel. “You object,” asked House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), “even though this is recounted in the special counsel's report?”
“I object, Mr. Chairman,” said Michael Purpura, deputy counsel to the president. “The question asked her to characterize whether it was accurate, which would then cause her to talk about things she witnessed and observed during her time as a close adviser to the President.”
Though Nadler and Democrats sparred with Hicks’ attorneys over the legitimacy of the White House’s immunity claims — and took measures to lay the groundwork for a court battle to dispute those claims — there were no high hopes she would go into detail about her White House service.
Instead, Democratic lawmakers were hopeful that Hicks might provide even a sliver of information useful to their investigation by answering questions about the 2016 presidential campaign and the transition effort.
Even on that front, however, they did not uncover very much. Hicks frequently said she did not recall certain details, and was vague in some of her responses. At one point, she did confirm to Democrats that Trump directed her to issue a statement denying that he had any relationship with Karen McDougal — the former model who was paid $150,000 by former Trump fixer Michael Cohen to stay silent about an alleged affair in the lead-up to the 2016 election.
In other lines of questioning, Hicks defended her former boss. When asked by Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL) if she was involved in any “anti-immigration campaign messaging,” Hicks responded that “ I don't believe any of Mr. Trump's messaging is anti-immigrant.”
At one point, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) asked if the Trump campaign was “happy” that Wikileaks had released damaging internal emails that had been hacked from Hillary Clinton’s campaign. “I think that ‘happy’ is not — I don't think that's a fair characterization,” said Hicks. “I think ‘relief that we weren't the only campaign with issues’ is more accurate.”
On another occasion, Hicks defended the campaign’s use of materials from the Wikileaks hack, saying “we used publicly available information in the course of the campaign … It is not my position that we benefited from those emails.”
Tensions flared frequently during the marathon session, which the Republican members on hand derided as a sham. The minority used what time they had to praise Hicks and slam the Democrats: “This is really a farce, quite frankly,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ). “It's a waste of your time, it's a waste of our time. Because what we see here is the majority wants to relitigate the Mueller investigation.”
And on three separate occasions, Nadler referred to Hicks as “Ms. Lewandowski.” Hicks had been romantically involved with Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s first campaign manager; Nadler apologized after Hicks pointed out, on the third slip, “My name is Ms. Hicks.”
Hicks is the first Trump administration figure named in the Mueller report to sit for an extended interview before a Democratic-controlled House panel. The fact of her appearance alone — even though it unfolded behind closed doors — was considered a win for the Judiciary Committee, which has struggled to bring in witnesses in the special counsel’s investigation for questioning amid simmering frustration in the caucus over White House stonewalling and the pace of their investigations.
But Democrats left the committee room on Wednesday frustrated. On numerous occasions during the hearing, lawmakers took as fact that there would be an upcoming court battle to challenge the blanket immunity claim and compel Hicks to give more answers about her time in the White House.
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) told The Daily Beast on Wednesday that Hicks should appear again before the committee — with the cameras rolling. “We ought to redo what we’re doing here today, it ought to be in public,” said Deutch.
“She needs to be forced to answer the questions, and if it takes going to court to do it, then of course we should do that, because people deserve to hear from her.”