Democratic members of Congress accused President Trump’s former spokeswoman Hope Hicks of pushing back on their inquiries during closed testimony.
WASHINGTON – Hope Hicks, President Donald Trump’s former campaign aide and White House communications director, on Thursday stood by her testimony to a House panel despite a demand that she clarify statements about hush-money payments during the 2016 campaign.
In July,documents were unsealed in the criminal case of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer who pleaded guilty and is imprisoned in part because he made arrangements for hush-money payments to two women who claimed to have had sex with Trump. The documents appeared to contradict Hicks’ testimony June 19, according to House Democrats.
Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., demanded in a letter July 18 to Hicks that she clarify her answers by Thursday.
The evidence “raises substantial questions about the accuracy of each of those statements,” Nadler said in the letter. “Given the apparent inconsistencies between your testimony and this evidence, I would like to give you an opportunity to clarify your testimony on a voluntary basis, prior to our considering compulsory process.”
But Hicks’ lawyer, Robert Trout, denied any inconsistencies with her testimony.
“Ms. Hicks stands by her testimony,” Trout told Nadler in the letter Thursday. “She had no knowledge of, and was not involved in any conversations about, ‘hush money’ payments to Stormy Daniels during the campaign.”
Hicks, who testified to the committee behind closed doors, declined to answer 155 questions about the administration. But she answered campaign-related questions.
Hicks testified that she “wasn’t aware of any hush payment agreement” with porn actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal. Committee members asked Hicks repeatedly about conversations with Cohen and Trump about any payments made to Daniels, but Hicks insisted she was never present for a conversation about the payments.
But Nadler said those replies appeared inconsistent with documents unsealed from Cohen’s case.
On the evening of Oct. 8, 2016, Hicks participated in a four-minute with Cohen and Trump, then a two-minute call with Cohen before Cohen had a series of calls and texts with Trump and officials at the National Enquirer about how to facilitate payments to the actress, according to a federal agent’s affidavit. After confirming the payment Oct. 28, 2016, Cohen spoke directly with Hicks.
On Nov. 4, 2016, days before the election, as the Wall Street Journal prepared a story about Trump and McDougal, Cohen spoke frequently to Hicks and National Enquirer officials. That night, Cohen used two cellphones at the same time to talk with Hicks and the actress’s lawyer at the same time, according to the agent.
But Trout went point by point through Nadler’s letter, disputing that Hicks had misled lawmakers or misrepresented what happened. Hicks maintained that she didn’t know about payments before they were made and that references to them came after news reports. Trout’s letter said Hicks could confirm that Cohen routinely had separate conversations on two phones at a time.
“In sum, the information in the search warrant affidavit is not inconsistent with Ms. Hicks’ testimony, and does not establish any lack of candor on her part,” Trout said in the letter.
Her reply comes at a time of unprecedented legal clashes between Congress and the White House.
The House held Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt over their refusal to provide information about a citizenship question for the census. The House filed federal lawsuits seeking access to blacked-out portions of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and to enforce a subpoena for former White House counsel Don McGahn, who is a key figure in the report.
Trump has called the various legal challenges and investigations presidential harassment and a partisan witch hunt.
Hicks’ name appears more than 180 times in the Mueller report’s text and footnotes. She described meetings and dealing with the aftermath of incidents, including:
•Trump helping draft a response to media questions about the meeting June 9, 2016, at Trump Tower, when Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner met with Russians offering damaging information about Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. On June 28, 2017, at Kushner’s lawyer’s office, Hicks reviewed emails setting up the meeting. She said they looked “really bad” and that media coverage would be “massive” when the story broke, the report said. During a foreign trip, Trump helped draft a statement July 8, 2017, for his son to provide The New York Times that said the meeting was “primarily” about adoptions and didn’t mention disparaging information about Clinton.
•Sessions recusing himself from the Russia inquiry because he worked on Trump’s campaign. Trump scolded Sessions in Hicks’ presence. Trump, who was “extremely upset” about Mueller’s appointment in May 2017, told Sessions he should resign. “Hicks said she had only seen the president like that one other time, after the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape came out during the campaign,” the report said, referring to a televised recording of Trump saying he grabbed women’s genitals. Trump pocketed Sessions’ resignation letter for a year and a half but fired him the day after the midterm election in November 2018.
•Trump telling Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on May 10, 2017, in the Oval Office that he fired Comey. “He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump told the Russians, according to the report. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off. … I’m not under investigation.” When Hicks told Trump about news stories about the meeting, Trump didn’t look concerned and said Comey “is crazy,” the report said.
More about legal clashes between Congress and President Donald Trump:
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