In her nine-hour closed-door meeting with the House Intelligence Committee this week, White House communications director Hope Hicks refused to say whether she had lied for a number of senior White House and Trump campaign officials, even as she acknowledged telling “white lies” for President Trump.
A Democrat and a Republican on the panel said Thursday that Hicks refused to answer questions Tuesday about whether she had been asked to lie by White House aides and Trump’s family members, including Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., former White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon, and former campaign officials Corey Lewandowski and Paul Manafort.
The testimony came a day before Hicks, 29, announced her plan to resign from the White House.
The one exception she made, according to Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), was acknowledging that former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn had asked her during the transition period to dissemble about questions he was getting regarding his conversations with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.
She claimed that she did not know she was being asked to lie but that she felt Flynn was being “dishonest,” Swalwell said.
Swalwell said Hicks did not answer when he asked why she would refuse to say whether other aides had asked her to lie when she was willing to speak about Flynn, or whether she had ever witnessed Trump asking others to lie for him.
Hicks’s admission came toward the end of her interview, as part of an exchange with Swalwell about whether Hicks had “ever lied for” Trump — a question Hicks initially refused to answer until she had consulted with her lawyer. Her recalcitrance left Democrats and Republicans on the panel with radically different interpretations about the meaning of her answers — particularly her admission that she had told “white lies.”
“If your response to the question ‘Have you ever lied for your boss?’ is to pause and take two timeouts, then we already know the answer,” Swalwell said, recapping his version of the exchange for The Washington Post. “She couldn’t answer it.”
The GOP maintains that Hicks was simply a victim of her own conscientiousness, and her “white lies” answer, according to Republican panel member Rep. Peter T. King (N.Y.), was simply an effort to avoid what he said was “a setup” and “a perjury trap.”
“If she had said no, and had some person come back and said they called and asked to meet with Donald Trump and she said ‘He’s not in’ when he really was, then she would have perjured herself,” King said. Hicks said she “never lied about anything of substance, and certainly nothing about anything involved in this investigation or with Russia,” he added.
“What I have done is what everyone has done, is tell ‘white lies,’ ” King said, continuing to quote Hicks to the best of his memory. “What she was doing is what any honest human being would say.”
Hicks was angry after the Tuesday testimony, telling those close to her she left feeling “abused” and “accused,” according to a person familiar with the situation.
Robert Trout, an attorney for Hicks, declined to comment.
The differences between how Democrats and Republicans are portraying her testimony highlight the sharp partisan division between members of the House Intelligence Committee. Panel members have interviewed the same witnesses during their months-long probe into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, but they are at odds over whether Trump affiliates’ actions and conversations were innocuous or potentially insidious.
Hicks testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee in October, managing to complete her appearance with little drama. The details of her Senate testimony has remained secret, unlike in the House, where some pieces were leaked within hours of her departure from the Capitol.
On several occasions Tuesday, Democrats asked Republican panel leaders to issue Hicks a subpoena for failing to provide more-detailed answers to their questions about lies, but the Republican leadership refused.
Hicks came under additional fire during her appearance Tuesday because she refused to answer questions related to anything that occurred after Trump took office, although Trump has not invoked executive privilege. That meant lawmakers were unable to compel her to testify about the role she might have played last summer aboard Air Force One in drafting a misleading statement to explain why the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. had met with a Russian lawyer in June 2016 at Trump Tower.
King and Swalwell both said that Hicks left the interview room for about five to 10 minutes to confer with her lawyers after she was asked about the lies. When she returned, she said she had not lied for the president on matters relating to Russia.
Democrats asked for a subpoena after Hicks then refused to detail whether other Trump advisers and staffers had asked her to lie. They asked for a subpoena again when Hicks refused to detail how many times Trump had asked her to lie for him or to tell them the last time she had been asked to lie, Swalwell said. No subpoena was granted.
Hicks took a second timeout to confer with her lawyers, again for about five to 10 minutes. When she returned to the room, she said “she never knowingly lied,” Swalwell said. “She said she may have told white lies — but not about anything on Russia.”
Democrats were frustrated with Hicks’s answers, and the exchange infuriated Republicans on the panel, who thought Swalwell’s line of questioning was designed to paint Hicks in the worst possible light — and create the impression that she had told larger lies than the minor communications obfuscations to which she was admitting.
King said that when Hicks returned to the room after consulting with her lawyer about how to answer the “lies” question, Swalwell said, “Let the record show that I asked you: Did President Trump ever ask you to lie?”
King said he rushed to correct Swalwell: “You didn’t say President Trump, you said Donald Trump.” The distinction is potentially serious because of questions about the role Hicks might have played in creating the statement explaining Donald Trump Jr.’s 2016 meeting at Trump Tower.
King said he wished the exchange had been televised, to demonstrate to the public that Hicks was trying not to dissemble, but to be honest and accurate with her answers, which she delivered “in excruciating detail.”
“This is disgraceful what they’re doing to her,” King said. “They’re trying to set it up to try to bring her down on this type of cheap stunt. Really, that’s what it was: a cheap stunt, hit job.”
The exchange took place at least seven hours into the nine-hour hearing, King said.
Earlier, in midafternoon, a committee counsel interrupted the meeting so that Hicks’s lawyers could take a call from White House lawyers. During that conversation, White House’s lawyers conveyed to Hicks that she had permission to answer questions pertaining to the transition period, King said.
The committee had obtained a transcript of an interview Hicks did with the Senate Intelligence Committee in the fall. On the basis of that transcript, House Intelligence Committee had successfully argued to the White House that Hicks ought to answer its questions on the same topics.
There was never a formal invocation of executive privilege, and Hicks never specifically discussed privilege but was deferring to her employer, King said. Once Hicks has formally resigned as communications director, it is possible that congressional panels may try to call her back to testify.
But King guessed that that would “probably not” happen in the House, and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s vice chairman, Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), is not pushing for Hicks’s return either.
Ashley Parker contributed to this report.