House Democrats’ wide-ranging probes into President Donald Trump and his team took a significant step forward this week with the Wednesday announcement that former top Trump aide Hope Hicks would be testifying privately before the House Judiciary Committee in a week’s time. The panel had subpoenaed Hicks alongside other former top Trump team officials as part of their efforts to investigate apparent presidential obstruction of justice and other abuses of power. Hicks is the first Trump ally to agree to actually appear before the committee.
Despite the rare but poignant point of cooperation, there could still be major roadblocks set to emerge. The Trump administration has established a continuing precedent for declaring executive privilege over information it, for whatever reason, doesn’t want investigators to see, whether or not it’s clear that the information even contains something crucial and private so that it would be covered by the concept.
A source told CNN that Hicks “is expected to address executive privilege issues on a question by question basis.” The White House has already intervened in her case to demand that requests for documents from the committee go through them and not Hicks, although she has transmitted some material at least covering her time with Trump’s campaign anyway.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) chimed in:
‘Ms. Hicks understands that the Committee will be free to pose questions as it sees fit, including about her time on the Trump Campaign and her time in the White House. Should there be a privilege or other objection regarding any question, we will attempt to resolve any disagreement while reserving our right to take any and all measures in response to unfounded privilege assertions.’
Hicks has previously testified to Congress, and as Nadler also mentioned, also served as a witness for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, which also covered presidential obstruction of justice. Mueller concluded that there was ample evidence of relevant criminal intent but said he could not bring a case because of standing Justice Department precedent against indicting a sitting president — but there’s no precedent against indicting former aides, six of whom have faced charges as a result of the Mueller probe.
Hicks could be cooperating at least for now because she’s aware of this fact and the contempt votes the full House held covering former White House counsel Don McGahn and Attorney General William Barr just this week. The approved resolution language holds them in civil contempt, which opens the door to court challenges to their refusals to cooperate without the associated criminal penalties. The Justice Department negotiated the pause of criminal contempt proceedings against Barr with the release of material from Mueller’s probe to the House Judiciary Committee.
Besides Hicks and the Justice Department itself, Donald Trump Jr. also cooperated with Congressional investigators this week, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee after refusing to appear voluntarily, getting subpoenaed, and then initially resisting that too. He claimed that he had nothing to correct from previous testimony, maintaining that he did not tell his father — President Trump — about a meeting with a Kremlin lawyer, among other things.
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