WASHINGTON — Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director, invoked what some Democrats are calling “blind immunity” during some of her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, frustrating Democrats looking to investigate obstruction of justice claims against President Donald Trump.
“It’s pretty ridiculous,” Rep. Karen Bass told reporters upon walking out of the hearing just before 10 a.m., about an hour into the hearing. “She’s objecting to stuff that’s already in the public record.”
The night before the hearing, White House lawyers sent a letter to Jerry Nadler, the committee chair, declaring Hicks immune to any testimony surrounding her time at the White House. The two-page letter cites a decade-old Department of Justice memo giving the president freedom to assert executive privilege with regards to congressional interviews with senior White House staffers.
"Ms. Hicks is absolutely immune from being compelled to testify before Congress with respect to matters occurring during her service as a senior adviser to the President," Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, wrote in the letter, mirroring a similar argument he presented when former White House counsel Don McGahn was subpoenaed.
Democratic Rep. David Cicilline refuted any claims of constitutional immunity and confirmed White House lawyers were directing Hicks to object to any questions around her time with the administration, “even as we’re recounting stuff she has told to the special counsel,” he said.
Committee members said, however, that Hicks did answer questions about her time on the Trump campaign; they said they will release an official transcript of the hearing within 48 hours.
When asked if Hicks would be held in contempt for not answering certain questions, Cicilline responded, “There’s a record that’s being established.” The committee voted to hold Attorney General Bill Barr in contempt last month for not turning over a full, unredacted copy of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
“You can’t make a bogus claim for immunity if you’re not part of the administration,” said Cicilline, who confirmed Hicks was armed with several attorneys, including her own and at least three White House lawyers.
Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu tweeted his disdain for the process and later told reporters that Hicks went as far as objecting to questions about where her office was located in the White House.
“There’s no such thing as absolute immunity. The White House is just making things up,” said Lieu, dubbing Hicks’s testimony an “obstruction of justice.”
Rep. Doug Collins, the lead Republican on the committee, summarized the hearings as “nothing new.”
“What was in the [Mueller] report has been reported," said Collins. "Ms. Hicks’s testimony has been consistent with that. This has been another time they can get a press release, that the Democrats try and relitigate the Mueller investigations, but they don’t have the resources and they’re simply having dramatic readings.”
Collins also dismissed the idea that securing Hicks’s testimony was a win for Democrats — McGahn did not testify at all — pointing out that Hicks has been compliant with investigative and congressional hearings in the past. Hicks previously testified before the House and Senate Intelligence committees.
Still, Democrats grew frustrated and paralleled Hicks’s limited responses to “contempt of Congress.”
“I will say generally our frustration is mounting in the face of the administration's efforts to stonewall Congress at every term,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland. “It's a plainly unacceptable situation. They’re doing everything they can to keep the truth from coming out to the American people.”