White House communications director Hope Hicks reportedly refused to answer questions about the Trump administration during an interview with the House Intelligence Committee, as part of their investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Since the investigation is purportedly about Russian meddling in the election, the White House has instructed those who worked on the transition team and in the administration not to answer questions beyond that period.
Earlier this month, former White House Chief Strategist Stephen K. Bannon appeared before the committee for a second interview, after he refused to answer questions beyond the campaign period the first time.
During the second interview, he came in with a list of questions from the White House that they would allow him to answer, along with approved answers. The White House said it was exerting executive privilege — essentially, the right to protect advice given to the president by senior aides. Lawmakers were furious, threatening to hold him in contempt of Congress.
President Trump has not yet actually evoked executive privilege, but the White House reportedly wants to preserve his right to do so.
Hicks and her lawyers did agree to discuss some topics already broached earlier with the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to the Washington Post.
In particular, lawmakers want to know what transpired on a flight from Germany back to Washington, D.C., when she, the president, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and their communications person Josh Raffel discussed a response to a New York Times story on the infamous June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting. Raffel announced he was leaving the White House on Tuesday.
The resulting response said the meeting was primarily about Russian adoptions. Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya had lobbied Trump Jr. about repealing the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law that sanctioned Russian corruption. Russian President Vladimir Putin banned U.S. adoptions of Russian children in response to the law.
While the topic of adoptions was discussed, some say the statement was misleading since the meeting was set up by a British publicist who said that Veselnitskaya would have dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russians. Trump Jr. has said no valuable information was passed on, and there were no follow-ups to that meeting.
According to the Post, Republican panel members seemed “far less agitated by Hicks’s reluctance to answer questions than they were by Bannon’s.” The committee is contemplating whether to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress.
Bannon held a far more senior position to Hicks during the campaign, as campaign chairman. He also held a far more senior position during the administration. Hicks, however, is known to be one of Trump’s most trusted advisers, and has maintained access to Trump throughout her time in the White House.