- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2018

White House Communications Director Hope Hicks is the latest Trump administration staffer to dodge questions about Russian election meddling.

During almost nine hours of closed-door testimony Tuesday before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Ms. Hicks, one of President Trump’s longest-serving aides, answered queries about the presidential campaign and certain aspects of the transition period after Mr. Trumps’s November 2016 victory, but she declined to discuss her work after the inauguration.

“This is not executive privilege; this is executive stonewalling,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the committee’s top Democrat, told reporters when the hearing broke up.

During testimony last month, White House strategist Steve Bannon declined to answer the committee’s questions about anything other than the Trump campaign. He said the president might want to invoke executive privilege at some point about those conversations.

The legal concept of executive privilege protects the confidentiality of presidential decision-making by allowing the president, and at times his staff, to keep certain information from the courts, Congress and the public.

Mr. Schiff and other committee members have countered that, starting with Mr. Bannon, the White House has employed “a breathtakingly broad interpretation of executive privilege, which no court would ever tolerate.”

Mr. Bannon told the committee that White House attorneys had instructed him to invoke executive privilege, but Mr. Schiff said Ms. Hicks did not mention executive privilege.

A 29-year-old former model, Ms. Hicks is seen across Washington as a key witness because she has worked with Mr. Trump since 2014 and then during the campaign as communications director, where she even helped run Mr. Trump’s Twitter account.

The White House on Tuesday dug in its heels to defend her, with Mr. Trump lashing out on Twitter that the multiple Russia investigations amounted to a “WITCH HUNT!”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wouldn’t comment on Ms. Hicks‘ testimony beyond saying the White House was cooperating.

“We are cooperating because, as the president has said repeatedly, there is no collusion,” Mrs. Sanders said. “And we’re going to continue to cooperate, and hopefully they will wrap this up soon.”

During the hearing, some committee members were more welcoming of Ms. Hicks‘ level of cooperation.

Appearing on Fox News during a break in the action, Rep. Chris Stewart, Utah Republican, favorably contrasted Ms. Hicks with Mr. Bannon.

“She’s very, very bright. She’s been a good witness,” he said. “She has answered all the questions very directly up to the point of the transition.”

Multiple sources have reported that Ms. Hicks has been interviewed by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Robert Mueller’s special counsel team regarding the Russia investigation.

According to Mr. Schiff, Democrats threatened to subpoena Ms. Hicks to force her to answer questions. She then voluntarily discussed aspects of the presidential transition after it was noted that she had already discussed similar topics with the Senate intelligence committee.

Democrats also expressed frustration that Ms. Hicks made no effort to discuss the White House communications response to a 2016 meeting between members of the Trump campaign — including the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. — and a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in New York.

When news of the meeting broke, Mr. Trump Jr. released a statement saying that the meeting had been about Russian adoptions. Later, he acknowledged that he took the meeting because the Russian had offered damaging information about his father’s political rival, Hillary Clinton.

Committee members said they wanted to ask Ms. Hicks how the original statement about adoptions was drafted.

Sally Persons and Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

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