Donald Trump‘s former adviser Hope Hicks appeared before the House Judiciary Committee as Democrats hoped to question her on the obstruction of justice counts recorded in the Mueller report, despite the White House invoking executive privilege in a bid to block her testimony and stonewall the investigation.
The president has tweeted angrily about the hearing taking place behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, writing: “Why aren’t the Dems looking at the 33,000 Emails that Hillary and her lawyer deleted and acid washed AFTER GETTING A SUBPOENA FROM CONGRESS? That is real Obstruction that the Dems want no part of because their hearings are RIGGED and a disgrace to our Country!”
Last night, Mr Trump kicked off his 2020 re-election campaign in Orlando, Florida, tearing into his enemies in Washington and pledging to combat “criminal aliens” in a wild address at the 20,000-capacity Amway Center packed with his most ardent supporters.
Less than an hour into Ms Hicks’ interview on Wednesday, frustrated Democrats taking breaks from the meeting said she and her lawyer were following White House orders to stay quiet about her time working for Mr Trump.
She was answering some questions about her time on the campaign, however, the lawmakers said.
“She’s objecting to stuff that’s already in the public record,” said California Democrat Karen Bass. “It’s pretty ridiculous.”
Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, called her answers “a farce.” Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, tweeted about the interview and wrote that Ms Hicks refused to answer even innocuous questions such as whether she had previously testified before Congress.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler declined to comment on the substance of the interview so far, saying “all I’ll say is Ms Hicks is answering questions put to her and the interview continues.”
Republicans had a different perspective, saying she was cooperative and that the interview was a waste of time. The top Republican on the panel, Doug Collins, said they were “simply talking about things that are already out there in public or getting the same answers over and over.”
It was so far unclear whether Democrats would take Ms Hicks or the administration to court to challenge the claim of immunity. In a letter Tuesday to Mr Nadler, White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote that Mr Trump had directed Ms Hicks not to answer questions “relating to the time of her service as a senior adviser to the president.”
Additional reporting by AP. Please allow a moment for our liveblog to load
Hello and welcome to The Independent's rolling coverage of the Donald Trump administration.
Donald Trump kicked off his 2020 re-election campaign in Orlando, Florida, on Tuesday night, tearing into his Democratic opponents and pledging to combat “criminal aliens” in a wild address to his most ardent supporters.
Addressing a 20,000-strong crowd, Trump complained he had been "under assault from the very first day" of his presidency by a "fake news media" and "illegal witch hunt" that had tried to keep him and his supporters down.
“This election is a verdict on whether we want to live in a country where the people will lose an election, refuse to concede and spend the next two years trying to shred our Constitution and rip your country apart,” he said, gloating over the outcome of the Mueller report and ignoring his own flagrant disregard for the institutions of governance.
On his enemies in the House of Representatives, his attack was particularly vicious, not to say deranged.
Trump painted a disturbing picture of what life would look like if he loses in 2020, accusing his critics of "un-American conduct" and telling the crowd that Democrats "want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it."
"A vote for any Democrat in 2020 is a vote for the rise of radical socialism and the destruction of the American dream," he said.
With staggering chutzpah and a liberating lack of self-awareness, Trump claimed his MAGA movement is about reclaiming power "from a permanent political class that enriched itself at your expense".
On policy, the president promised to cure cancer and AIDs and to “lay the foundations” for a US-led Mars landing, taking credit for historic lows in unemployment and a renewable energy boom (despite backing fossil fuel extraction) while rounding on his enemies in the press as the packed Amway Center chanted “CNN sucks!”
On immigration, he said, ominously: "Wait until you see some of the things you are going to be hearing about over the next few months. Our country should be a sanctuary for law-abiding citizens, not for criminal aliens."
Trump told his fans he personally had redesigned the US-Mexico border wall under construction to keep out illegal immigrants: “It’s stronger, bigger, better and cheaper”.
The president also renewed his attack on defeated 2016 rival Hillary Clinton - whose very name brought fresh howls of "Lock her up!" - hinting darkly that attorney general William Barr could still prosecute her over her failure to use secure government communication channels to carry out official business while serving as secretary of state.
"If you want to know how the system is rigged, just compared how they came after us for three years with everything they had compared to the free pass they gave to Hillary and her aides after they set an illegal server, destroyed evidence, deleted an acid washed 33,000 emails, exposed classified information, and turned the State Department into a pay-for-play cash machine," Trump said. "33,000 emails deleted!"
Extraordinarily, even by his standards, the president also accused his predecessor, Barack Obama, of colluding against him with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
It was, all told, a crazy, crazy night in Orlando.
Our own Clark Mindock was there. Here's his eye-witness account.
Trump's cancer cure claim was particularly odd given that one of his warm-up acts - his eldest son, Don Jr - had just mocked Democratic 2020 frontrunner Joe Biden for promising the same thing to voters in Iowa.
Vice president Mike Pence and first lady Melania Trump also spoke at the Amway, with the irony of the crowd cheering on a Slovenian immigrant representing an administration determined to placed closed borders at the heart of the 2020 agenda apparently lost on them.
Here's Andrew Buncombe's assessment of Trump's performance and what it has to tell us about how he intends to play his hand moving forward.
The scene inside the Amway was pretty extraordinary, it has to be said. Whatever your political affiliations, this gentleman at the top's outfit is killer.
In amongst the hysteria, this woman thought she spotted at least one crowd member heiling Trump with a Nazi salute.
The Proud Boys, an alt-right white supremacist group, were certainly in town, spoiling for a fight with protesters.
Trump supporters unable to get tickets for the main event could watch it at a nearby fringe event called 45 Fest, a downtown fan park with big screens to watch the speech, hot dogs for sale and entertainment by a Texas bar band named The Guzzlers.
Here's a flavour of the atmosphere on the ground.
Just look at this garbage.
Clark Mindock spoke to Trump loyalists attending yesterday's rally and braved the sea of red caps and merchandise stands to get their take on why they believe a billionaire businessman best represents their interests.
There was also a significant counter-demonstration held at the city's Stonewall Bar to oppose the president, with a mariachi band, drag queens and a giant Trump Baby blimp.
Before Trump left for Orlando on Tuesday, the president had a surprise announcement: the resignation of his acting secretary of defence Patrick Shanahan, who withdrew his nomination for the post on a permanent basis before he could be confirmed.
Trump said he would be replaced by Mark Esper, secretary of the army, but insisted it was not a firing.
"It is unfortunate that a painful and deeply personal family situation from long ago is being dredged up and painted in an incomplete and therefore misleading way in the course of this process," Shanahan said in a statement.
"I believe my continuing in the confirmation process would force my three children to relive a traumatic chapter in our family's life and reopen wounds we have worked years to heal. Ultimately, their safety and well-being is my highest priority."
The US has not had a permanent secretary of defence since January following the resignation of James Mattis in opposition to the withdrawal of US troops from Syria after President Trump rather over-confidently declared the Islamist extremists of Isis had been defeated.
"This Shanahan fiasco shows what a shambles, what a mess" the administration's national security policy is," Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said yesterday.
President Trump has refused to apologise for saying the Central Park Five should be executed in 1989, 17 years after they were exonerated with DNA evidence.
The president was asked about the case on Tuesday, in light of Ava DuVernay’s four-part Netflix series recounting their story, When They See Us.
As one of New York's most prominent citizens at the time, Trump famously took out full-page adverts in the city's daily newspapers at the time calling for the death penalty to be reintroduced for Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise, five black and Latino teenagers who were convicted of attacking 28-year-old white female jogger Trisha Meili after she was raped and beaten almost to death while out for a run on 19 April 1989.
Authorities vacated their convictions in 2002, after convicted murderer and serial rapist Matias Reyes confessed to the attack and said he had committed it alone. DNA evidence backed up his confession.
“You have people on both sides of that. They admitted their guilt,” Trump said on Tuesday before setting out for Orlando.
Clémence Michallon has more.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies