White House lawyers blocked Hope Hicks from answering questions 155 times during her congressional testimony, citing 'absolute immunity'

 

  • Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director, refused to answer lawmakers' questions 155 times during her closed-door testimony before the House Judiciary Committee this week.
  • White House lawyers, who accompanied Hicks to the hearing, cited "absolute immunity" as the reason for her refusal to answer, and said the assertion applied to "anything about her knowledge of anything during the period of time in which she was employed in the White House."
  • Hicks was blocked from answering questions about seemingly insignificant details, like where her office was located in the White House, and if President Donald Trump ever spoke to her during lunch time.
  • She was also stopped from reading parts of the former special counsel Robert Mueller's report out loud, even though the document is publicly available.
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Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director, brought six lawyers with her when she testified before the House Judiciary Committee in a closed-door session earlier this week: three White House lawyers, one Justice Department attorney, and two private lawyers.

And according to a transcript of her testimony released Thursday, White House lawyers stopped Hicks from answering lawmakers' questions at least 155 times, citing "absolute immunity."

They said that immunity assertion applied to "anything about her knowledge of anything during the period of time in which she was employed in the White House."

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler was noticeably frustrated with the White House's stonewalling, saying at one point during the hearing, "With all due respect, that is absolute nonsense as a matter of law."

Throughout the hearing, Hicks was blocked from answering basic questions on seemingly insignificant details like where her office was located in the White House, and whether President Donald Trump ever spoke to her during lunch time.

At one point, a White House lawyer stopped Hicks from reading parts of the former special counsel Robert Mueller's report out loud, even though the document is publicly available.

"You object even though this is recounted in the special counsel's report?" Nadler asked.

"I object, Mr. Chairman," said Michael Purpura, the 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."

Hicks is the first material witness connected to the former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election to testify before Congress following the release of Mueller's report.

Hicks was a central figure in Mueller's obstruction-of-justice case and has long been one of President Donald Trump's closest confidantes. She was mentioned more than 180 times in Mueller's report and interviewed with prosecutors at least three times.

Related: Everything you need to know about Hope Hicks 

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Hicks and her sister, Mary Grace, were successful teen models. Hicks posed for Ralph Lauren and appeared on the cover of "It Girl," a spin-off of the best-selling "Gossip Girl" book and TV series.

Hicks and her sister, Mary Grace, were successful teen models. Hicks posed for Ralph Lauren and appeared on the cover of "It Girl," a spin-off of the best-selling "Gossip Girl" book and TV series.

Hicks met patriarch Trump and quickly "earned his trust," Ivanka Trump told The New York Times for a June 2016 profile on the spokeswoman.

In January 2015, Trump called Hicks into his office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower and told her she was joining his presidential campaign. "I think it’s 'the year of the outsider.' It helps to have people with outsider perspective," Hicks said Trump told her.

Hicks didn't have any political experience, but her public-relations roots run deep. Both grandfathers worked in PR, and her father, Paul, was the NFL's executive vice president for communications and public relations. He was also a town selectman from 1987 to 1991. Greenwich proclaimed April 23, 2016, as Paul B. Hicks III Day.

Hicks started working on what would become Trump's campaign five months before Trump announced his presidency, after he famously rode a golden escalator down to the lobby of his tower on June 16, 2015.

That makes Hicks the campaign staffer who has persisted in Trump's inner circle the longest. She outlasted his first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and several senior advisers.

People close to her describe Hicks as a friendly, loyal fighter. Trump has called her a "natural" and "outstanding."

While reporters who have worked with Hicks say she's polite, they have expressed frustration that she was often unreachable on the campaign trail, not responding to requests for comment, or denying access to the candidate.

She said her mom, Caye, told her to write a book about her experience with Trump, like "Primary Colors," the fictional novel depicting President Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign. "You don't even know," she said she told her mother.

During the campaign, Hicks spent most of her days fielding reporters' requests and questions — even reportedly taking dictation from Trump to post his tweets.

During the campaign, Hicks stayed in a free apartment in a Trump building, though she'd often go home to her parents' house in Connecticut when she could.

These days she's in DC. Trump named her his assistant to the president and director of strategic communications in December.

She still flies below the radar, directing the spotlight back on Trump. The then president-elect called her up to the microphone to speak at a "Thank You" rally in December.

It's been said she can act as a sort of Trump whisperer, understanding his many moods and professionally executing what needs to be done. She still only calls him "Sir" or "Mr. Trump."

"If the acting thing doesn’t work out, I could really see myself in politics," Hicks told Greenwich Magazine when she was 13. "Who knows."

In June, the White House released salary info for 377 top staffers. Hicks gets paid the maximum amount that any of Trump's aides receive: $179,700.

Hicks is making as much as Trump's former chief of staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Steve Bannon, former press secretary Sean Spicer, senior counselor Kellyanne Conway, policy adviser Stephen Miller, and communications official Omarosa Manigault.

Some family members and friends have expressed concern that Hicks is so closely tied to a president whose policies and statements are unpopular with a significant number of Americans, but are confident that she'll come through unscathed.

"There is just no way that a camera or an episode or a documentary could capture what has gone on. There is nothing like it," Hicks told Marie Claire in June 2016. "It is the most unbelievable, awe-inspiring thing."

In August, Trump asked Hicks to be the new interim White House director of communications, a job that Michael Dubke, Sean Spicer, and Anthony Scaramucci held and left in Trump's first six months in office. The White House will announce who will serve in the job permanently "at the appropriate time."

The 28-year-old Hicks is the youngest communications director in history.

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Mueller's team declined to make a "traditional prosecutorial judgment" on whether Trump obstructed justice, citing a 1973 Office of Legal Counsel memo which said a sitting president cannot be indicted.

But prosecutors emphasized that their report "does not exonerate" the president and went on to lay out at least 11 instances of potential obstruction by Trump, indicating that it's up to Congress to investigate further.

Following Hicks' testimony on Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers expressed significant irritation toward the White House for blocking Hicks from answering so many questions.

Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democratic committee member, told Politico that Hicks didn't say anything in the hearing without the explicit permission of the White House lawyer.

"She made clear she wouldn't answer a single question about her time unless the White House counsel told her it was okay," he said.

Indeed, Deutch was incredulous during the hearing when, at one point, White House lawyers stopped Hicks from discussing a dinner she had with Trump in April on the grounds that the president may claim executive privilege over the conversation in the future.

"You won't allow the witness to answer because you're reserving the right to assert privilege about a conversation at some point in the future?" Deutch asked the lawyers.

"That is correct," Hicks responded.

But the hearing wasn't a total flop for lawmakers interested in getting information from Hicks.

Most notably, when asked about Trump's comments in a recent ABC News interview, during which he said he would potentially entertain an offer of political dirt on an opponent from a foreign power, Hicks said she would not accept such an overture.

She added, however, that she would only contact the FBI if she "felt it was legitimate enough to have our law enforcement dedicate their time to it."

Hicks also shared some of her thoughts on WikiLeaks' release, during the 2016 election, of information that was damaging to then Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Hicks said she accepted the US intelligence community's assessment that the Russian government was responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign during the election. She added that when the Clinton emails were published online, her reaction was "not happiness, but a little bit of relief maybe that other campaigns had obstacles to face as well."

She disputed the notion that the Trump campaign had a "coordinated strategy" to weaponize the Clinton dirt, saying instead that it was an effort "to take publicly available information and use that to show a differentiation" between Trump and Clinton.

Hicks also said she found it "odd" that Trump asked Corey Lewandowski, his former campaign manager, to get then Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse his recusal from overseeing the Russia investigation. Sessions recused himself after it surfaced that during his Senate confirmation hearing, he failed to disclose his contacts with Russian officials during the campaign.

Lewandowski was one of several associates and advisers who did not follow through on Trump's directives to influence the Russia probe.

Hicks also told the committee that she had told "white lies" on Trump's behalf but that she had "never been asked to lie about matters of substance or consequence."

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