Hope Hicks says she told ‘white lies’ only about small matters
Former White House communications director Hope Hicks told lawmakers Wednesday that she had “never been asked to lie about matters of substance or consequence,” contending that “white lies” she had told on behalf of President Donald Trump were about small matters, such as his availability.
The comments are part of the 273-page transcript of Hicks’ closed-door interview with the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, a document that revealed behind-the-scenes details of Trump’s presidential campaign as well as her relationship to the now-commander in chief.
Asked if Trump ever asked anyone to lie during the campaign, Hicks said: “Not that I can recall.”
But the transcript also showed just how much White House lawyers objected to the questioning.
According to Democrats on the committee, attorneys from the Trump administration blocked Hicks from answering 155 questions. Democrats said Hicks was accompanied by her two private lawyers, as well as three lawyers from the White House and one lawyer from the Justice Department, who objected throughout the nearly eight-hour session to virtually every topic on her time in the White House.
The transcript shows how the Judiciary Committee is seeking — so far unsuccessfully — to put witnesses like Hicks on the record about the episodes that were detailed in the Mueller report. House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler has not publicly said that he will pursue an impeachment inquiry, but answers to the questions posed and objected to Wednesday would likely form a base of evidence if the committee did pursue an impeachment path.
At the same time, there was little new unearthed during Wednesday’s hearing, as Hicks and the other witnesses that Democrats are seeking to haul up to Capitol Hill have already testified before the special counsel, if not congressional committees, too.
The interview underscores the challenges Democrats face in swaying hardened public opinions about Russia, the president and obstruction and the findings of the report from special counsel Robert Mueller.
Hicks says Trump’s ‘Russia, if you’re listening’ line in July 2016 was a joke
Hicks told lawmakers she had spoken with Trump right after his infamous speech in July 2016 when he publicly called on the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails (The campaign later said this was a joke.)
“The discussion was me informing him that some in the media had taken the expression quite literally, and that they were concerned he was encouraging foreign governments to, you know, locate those emails, and that that was obviously something that the media felt was extremely inappropriate and demanded a response from Mr. Trump and the campaign as to what exactly he meant by that,” she said.
In her testimony, Hicks maintained that the comment was “a joke.”
“You know, it was my understanding from both the way he made the remark, and the discussions afterwards, that this was a little bit tongue-in-cheek,” she said. “This was not a comment that was intended as an instructive or a directive to a foreign government. It was a joke. And that was the intent, based on my conversation with him, and that was it.”
The Mueller report noted that “Within approximately five hours of Trump’s statement, GRU officers targeted for the first time Clinton’s personal office.” GRU is the initials for Russia’s military intelligence agency.
Trump Tower 2016
One strain of questioning led to an inconsistency with testimony from Mueller’s report. Lawmakers asked Hicks about the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, where the campaign expected to receive dirt from Russian government that could help them defeat Hillary Clinton.
Trump and his team have repeatedly said that the only people who knew the details of the meeting as it happened were the people who were actually in the room: Donald Trump Jr., Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign chairman at the time.
Hicks told lawmakers she learned about the meeting “in June of 2017,” which is consistent with her testimony to the special counsel. But that denial doesn’t entirely line up with Mueller’s findings. That report cited testimony from Manafort’s deputy Rick Gates, who was described as a credible and reliable cooperating witness. He told investigators about a campaign strategy session, days before the meeting, where Trump Jr. announced that he had a lead on “negative information” about Clinton and that it was coming from a Kyrgyzstan. Gates recalled that Hicks was present for that session.
At times, Hicks said she had no recollection of key moments in the Mueller report.
When asked by Democratic Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island whether she had read Mueller report, Hicks responded “No, sir. I lived the Mueller report.”
Hicks also told lawmakers she wasn’t aware of any discussions about WikiLeaks within the Trump campaign, except for conversations about things that were already in the public domain.
“Sometimes there would be speculation about if there would be more emails or information released, but that was prompted by things in the media so — and, obviously, it wasn’t, you know, certain certainty. It was with speculation and skepticism,” she said.
Hicks describes Trump order as ‘odd’
There were also small snapshots of the relationship between Trump and Hicks, one of the first members of the President’s inner circle to face a Democratic-led committee.
Hicks told lawmakers she has spoken to Trump only between five and 10 times since she left the administration in February 2018.
Hicks said she viewed Trump’s order to former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to urge Attorney General Jeff Sessions to unrecuse himself from the Russia investigation as “odd.”
Hicks said she would still have gone to work for the Trump team if she had known about “the hell that (she) would be put through.” Responding to a question from Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, Hicks said “I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity I had to serve, and, yes, I would do it all over again.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.
CNN’s David Shortell, Erica Orden and Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.