Democrats have denounced as “a farce” testimony from Donald Trump’s former spokesperson, who refused – under directions from the White House – to confirm even basic information such as the location of her office in the West Wing.
The House of Representative’s judiciary committee hoped the closed-door testimony of former communications director Hope Hicks would provide insights into whether the president broke the law.
But soon after her testimony on Capitol Hill got under way on Wednesday, Democrats accused the 30-year-old and her legal advisors of stonewalling
Such was the level of intervention by a White House lawyer, seeking to assert executive privilege over Ms Hicks’s testimony, that she declined to answer a series of basic questions, including where she actually sat in the White House, according to members of the committee.
Another question she reportedly initially refused to answer was whether the sun was shining on her first day of work.
“Excited I got Hope Hicks to answer one question about her tenure at the White House,” tweeted Democratic congressman Ted Lieu, from California. “I asked if on her first day, ‘was it a sunny day or a cloudy day’. You’ll need to wait for the transcript to see her answer b/c @GOP is mad I’m live tweeting the absurdity of absolute immunity.”
Ms Hicks, who left the White House in the spring of 2018, was mentioned 183 times in the report of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. She was at the centre of a number of events the special counsel’s team scrutinised, including the White House’s response to revelations by the New York Times that members of Mr Trump’s team met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer at Trump Tower in New York who they believed could provide dirt on Hillary Clinton.
On the eve of the testimony of Ms Hicks, who worked on Mr Trump’s presidential campaign and was trusted greatly by the president, the White House announced it was seeking to assert “total immunity” over parts of her appearance, a concept Democrats rejected.
Reports suggested while the White House would seek to assert executive privilege over her time spent working for the president, she would be prepared to talk about her time working for his 2016 campaign, especially since she had already talked to Mr Mueller about that.
But things did not appear to go the way of Democrats, who wanted to ask her about six instances in which they believed Mr Trump may have broken the law. Not only would she not talk about where her desk was located, but was directed not to answer questions about material she had already given to Mr Mueller.
Democrats said White House lawyers argued Ms Hicks was immune from having to testify, which they called a “bogus” position that did not exist in law.
“No prior president has engaged in such a transparent effort to block his own former aides from testifying about the president’s misconduct,” judiciary committee chairman Jerry Nadler said in a letter to the White House counsel.
CNN reporter Manu Raju tweeted about a brief conversation he had with House speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom he asked about Ms Hicks’ testimony.
“Just asked Nancy Pelosi about White House saying Hope Hicks should not answer questions about her time at the White House,” he wrote. “She said ‘ ‘Obstruction of justice’. And she walked to the elevator.”
Democrats had hoped Ms Hicks would be their star witness as they continue to investigate whether Mr Trump obstructed justice or broke the law in another way while in office.
Their efforts come after Mr Mueller’s two-year report concluded Trump’s campaign had not colluded with Russia during the 2016 election, but which failed to exonerate him on the issue of obstruction.
Attorney general William Barr made the decision there was insufficient evidence to indict the president, something that has only added to the anger among Democrats.
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