- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2019

A questioner asked Hope Hicks during her eight-hour congressional testimony on Trump-Russia collusion about her relationship with President Trump and whether she became like a daughter.

A Democratic congressman wanted to know her reaction to candidate Trump’s “anti-immigration” message.

Another one live-tweeted the closed-door session of the House Judiciary Committee. Others took photographs.

Democrats also questioned Ms. Hicks, 30, about her hours of previous investigative interviews. For the former White House communications director, the congressional inquisition resembled a science fiction movie.

“This is like ‘Inception,’ ” Ms. Hicks said. “I’m answering questions about interviews and interviews and interviews.”

A Washington Times analysis of the 273 transcript pages generated from Ms. Hicks‘ testimony before the Judiciary Committee finds the June 19 hearing didn’t offer Democrats anything that they didn’t already know.

Democrats repeated others’ questions, such as how she met Mr. Trump — it was while she worked for a public relations firm that handled daughter Ivanka Trump’s account — and how many Trump associates ever talked to Russians? She didn’t know.

What the Hicks questioning did provide is the first look inside the drive to impeach the president.

Based on Democrats’ questions, the committee’s six-month investigation has not uncovered anything new on Russia or obstruction of justice, according to The Times’ analysis.

Questions often came right out of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report as opposed to committee research, according to the transcript released after last week’s session.

The continual reference to Mr. Mueller prompted Ms. Hicks to say at one point: “So if you all wanted to get facts, you know, I would say that those are available in this report, of which most of this session has consisted of repeating, which I’m happy to do.”

Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, and colleagues referred to the special counsel’s report scores of times, at least 25 of them with direct citations of volume, page and footnote. There was one goal: Find a Russian conspiracy that Mr. Mueller missed.

Mr. Nadler had Ms. Hicks recite report excerpts out loud — a tactic Republicans called “dramatic readings.”

“Could you — can you please, Ms. Hicks, read aloud — read out loud the highlighted portion from that page? Page 91,” Mr. Nadler said.

The Mueller report, Volume II, Page 91, contained a statement Mr. Trump wanted then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself from the Russia investigation, to issue in the president’s name about how he had no role in Russian election meddling.

She read it. Mr. Nadler then called her “Ms. Lewandowski.” Former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was to have been the conduit between the president and Mr. Sessions.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Hicks,” Mr. Nadler said. “I’m preoccupied.”

‘A press avail opportunity’

Mr. Nadler repeatedly confronted Ms. Hicks‘ attorneys for objecting to questions about her time as communications director. The White House has imposed “absolute immunity” on aides asked about their White House tenure. The aides have permission to talk about the campaign and some transition events. A court battle is expected.

The Trump White House turned over thousands of pages of documents to Mr. Mueller and allowed all staff to testify. The president answered written questions.

John Dowd, who was Mr. Trump’s attorney during the investigation into Russia’s election meddling, told The Washington Times, “It is a gross abuse of the House process designed to punish her for exercising her Sixth Amendment right to rely upon the advice of her good counsel.”

Mr. Nadler, who says Mr. Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice, is exploring impeachment charges.

In the background, Rep. Ted Lieu, California Democrat, began live-tweeting even though the closed-door session was supposed to be confidential.

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the committee’s ranking Republican, stopped the proceeding.

“Now, if this is the way we want to play it, we’ve now proven that this is nothing but a political stunt,” Mr. Collins said. “It is a press avail opportunity. And if Mr. Lieu would like to go outside and testify to the press, that’s fine. But simply doing this like it is, it’s a mockery.”

Mr. Lieu defended his tweets by saying he was exposing the White House’s immunity position.

Ms. Hicks‘ attorney, Robert Trout, paused to object to the picture taking.

“Mr. Chairman, I think there are a number of people taking pictures here, and I just want to say that I think it’s making the witness uncomfortable. And I would very much appreciate it as a courtesy, if nothing else, if we could —”

Mr. Nadler had them stop.

“The decorum here was botched and became really what I’ve said this was, is, for a long time is a photo opportunity and a show,” Mr. Collins said.

Republicans mostly sat on the sidelines but sprung into action to criticize the process.

Ms. Hicks is one of the first witnesses from the “letter of 81,” a March 4 correspondence Mr. Nadler sent to Trump associates asking them for documents. Most targets, such as Ms. Hicks, had been interviewed by other congressional committees and Mr. Mueller’s staff of prosecutors.

Here were the Hicks session’s Trump-Russia topics that have been debated and investigated for more than two years:

⦁ The Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 of Donald Trump Jr., campaign aides and a Russian lawyer representing a rich Russian client who wants U.S. sanctions eased.

“So are you saying you didn’t have those conversations or you don’t remember whether you had those conversations?” asked Rep. Joe Neguse, Colorado Democrat.

Ms. Hicks: “I’m saying that to the best of my recollection here today, I do not recall ever having those conversations.”

⦁ Democrats also brought up the aborted Trump Tower Moscow project. Also mentioned: former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s transfer of polling data to his employee in Ukraine, Konstantin Kilimnik. The Mueller report said he did it to burnish his image among potential Ukrainian clients.

To all of these queries, Ms. Hicks, who left the White House as communications director in March 2018 and is now a Fox Corp. executive, replied that she didn’t have knowledge.

‘I lived the Mueller report’

The Democrats’ reliance on the Mueller report to frame questions prompted Republicans to say they were plowing old ground.

“Given that we are now through the majority’s first hour and they have not uncovered a single fact from Ms. Hicks that was not evident in the Mueller report, it seems indicative that this is largely about posturing and not about any development of any facts,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, Florida Republican.

At one point, Democrats asked why an email from a suspected Russian was assigned a red flag and reported to the Secret Service.

Ms. Hicks said the warning related only to the possibility of a hack or phishing.

“Early on in the campaign, in 2015, I clicked on a link in my personal email and, you know, compromised my personal email,” she said. “So, somewhere in the dark corners of the internet, there’s lots of pictures of my family dog.”

Rep. David N. Cicilline, Rhode Island Democrat, tried to coax Ms. Hicks into admitting she lied for the president.

This goes back to Ms. Hicks‘ eight hours of testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in February 2018. She said she had told “white lies” for Mr. Trump, such as informing a caller he was not in the office when in fact he was. Democrats immediately leaked her testimony, in progress, to The New York Times.

“You’ve read the Mueller report, I take it?” Mr. Cicilline asked.

Ms. Hicks: “No, sir. I lived the Mueller report.”

When Mr. Cicilline attempted to have her acknowledge that the Russian hacking of Democratic emails helped Mr. Trump, Ms. Hicks suggested that Hillary Clinton’s campaign colluded with the mainstream media.

“No more so than the Clinton campaign benefited from the media helping them and providing information about Mr. Trump,” she testified.

Also in the room were two hired guns Mr. Nadler brought in to help with any impeachment proceedings. Lawyers Norman Eisen and Barry H. Berke have written that Mr. Trump might be guilty of a wide range of crimes and that his associates may be guilty of “aiding and abetting” Russian hacking.

Mr. Mueller said his investigation didn’t establish such a conspiracy.

Mr. Eisen was a White House attorney under President Obama and is associated with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which is suing the Trump administration.

Mr. Eisen has referred to an unsolicited email to Trump Tower from a Russian, offering “political synergy,” as evidence of a conspiracy. The offer wasn’t pursued.

To Ms. Hicks, Mr. Eisen wanted to know her relationship with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Eisen: And you’ve been described publicly like a daughter to him. Do you agree with that characterization?

Ms. Hicks: You would have to ask Mr. Trump that.

Mr. Eisen: Did he ever tell you how to describe your relationship with him? During the campaign now, I’m asking.

Ms. Hicks: No.

Mr. Eisen: And did the relationship change between the campaign and the transition in any material ways?

Ms. Hicks: No.

As the evening hour approached, Mr. Eisen said, “We’ve exhausted what she knew. Now I’m moving to the interviews and attempting to close out the Mueller interviews.”

One Democratic staffer was disappointed to learn that Mr. Trump doesn’t use email. “Did you ever ask him why he doesn’t write emails?”

Ms. Hicks answered: “I just know he prefers to speak on the phone. He prefers the interaction.”

Mr. Nadler tweeted afterward that the Hicks session was a success. White House attorneys, he said, blocked questions 155 times, the Trump team welcomed the Russian hacking, and the claims of immunity “are a sham.”

Asked about the Hicks testimony, a former Trump campaign worker told The Times: “They will keep bringing in Trump associates because they haven’t been punished yet for doing nothing except harassment of president and team, past and present. They should lose the House again over such reckless extremism.”

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