White House communications director Hope Hicks, one of President Donald Trump’s longest-running aides, appeared Tuesday before a congressional panel probing his campaign’s links to Russia, but it is not clear how many questions she was willing to answer.
The House Intelligence Committee is meeting behind closed doors with Hicks, who first worked for the Trump family as a public relations spokeswoman for Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, to promote her clothing business before later joining Trump’s campaign on his successful 2016 run for the White House.
The congressional panel has sparred in recent weeks with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon over the scope of questions he would answer about the weeks after Trump won the election before taking office and then events that occurred after Trump assumed power 13 months ago.
The White House did not invoke executive privilege against his testimony, but worked to limit the scope of questions he would answer to a prepared list of queries.
It has not been disclosed what line of questions the 29-year-old Hicks will face. Her earlier appearance in January before the same committee was scuttled in a dispute over what questions she would answer.
One point of Tuesday’s inquiry is likely to focus on her role in helping draft a misleading statement on Air Force One last year about a June 2016 meeting that Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort held with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower in the midst of the campaign. The younger Trump set up the meeting believing he would get incriminating information about Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent, but the mid-2017 statement about the gathering said it was about Americans’ adoptions of Russian children.
Congressman Michael Conaway, a Texas Republican who who is running the panel’s Russia investigation, said Monday that he “would not be surprised” if Hicks refuses to answer certain questions on grounds that Trump may eventually want to invoke executive privilege to keep secret conversations he had with her.
Trump almost daily attacks the investigations into Russia’s meddling in the election that was aimed at helping him defeat Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of state.
On Tuesday, hours before Hicks was set for questioning, Trump said on Twitter, “WITCH HUNT,” in all capital letters. He quoted several analysts who say they see no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia or that he obstructed justice in trying to curb the FBI’s Russia investigation by firing former FBI director James Comey, who at the time was leading the agency’s Russia probe.
Trump’s ouster of Comey last May led to the appointment of another former FBI director, Robert Mueller, as the special counsel to continue the Russia investigation.
Mueller has secured guilty pleas from Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and former foreign affairs adviser George Papadopoulos for lying to investigators about their Russia contacts. One-time Trump campaign aide Rick Gates pleaded guilty last week to financial fraud and lying to investigators in connection with his lobbying efforts for the Moscow-backed government in Ukraine that predated his role in the U.S. political race.