Nancy Pelosi accuses Trump of obstructing justice by ordering Hope Hicks not to answer Democrats’ questions

White House Communications Director and presidential advisor Hope Hicks waves to reporters as she arrives at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center February 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. Hicks is scheduled to testify behind closed doors to the House Intelligence Committee in its ongoing investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

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White House Communications Director and presidential advisor Hope Hicks waves to reporters as she arrives at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center February 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. Hicks is scheduled to testify behind closed doors to the House Intelligence Committee in its ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the White House of obstructing justice when it blocked Hope Hicks, the former communications director, from answering Congress’ questions on Wednesday about her work for the White House.
  • Hicks agreed last week to testify, but she refused to answer any questions or provide any documents pertaining to her time in the White House during her closed-door testimony Wednesday.
  • Several Democrats on the committee expressed their frustration to reporters as they left Hicks’ hearing. Rep. Pramila Jayapal called it a “farce.”
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the White House of obstructing justice by blocking Hope Hicks, the former communications director, from testifying to Congress about her work in the White House.

When a CNN reporter asked Pelosi what she thought of the White House’s move, Pelosi replied, “obstruction of justice.”

Hicks spent about eight hours testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in a closed-door session on Wednesday but refused to answer the committee’s questions or provide any documents pertaining to her time in the White House.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote in a letter to the committee that Hicks is “absolutely immune” from revealing information about her work in the White House, including minor details like where her office was located. Democrats called the immunity assertion “bogus,” and Justice Department veterans and ethics lawyers also said Cipollone’s assessment has no legal merit.

Several congressional committees are currently investigating Trump, and the House Judiciary Committee’s primary focus is using the former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report in the Russia probe as a roadmap to determine whether Trump obstructed justice.

Mueller’s team declined to make a “traditional prosecutorial judgment” on whether Trump obstructed justice, citing a 1973 Office of Legal Counsel memo which said a sitting president cannot be indicted. But prosecutors emphasized that their report “does not exonerate” the president and went on to lay out at least 11 instances of potential obstruction by Trump, indicating that it’s up to Congress to investigate further.

Hicks was a central figure in Mueller’s obstruction case and has long been one of Trump’s closest confidantes. She was mentioned more than 180 times in Mueller’s report and interviewed with prosecutors at least three times.

She is the first material witness connected to the investigation to appear before Congress.

Read more: Trump kicked off his 2020 campaign with a freewheeling rally riddled with falsehoods as he excoriated Mueller, Democrats, and the press

Several Democrats on the committee expressed their frustration to reporters as they left Hicks’ hearing on Wednesday.

Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat and member of the House Judiciary Committee, echoed Pelosi’s comments.

“I’m watching obstruction of justice in action,” Lieu said. “You have to ask the question, ‘What are they trying to hide from the American people?'”

Lieu added that Democrats would challenge Hicks’ immunity claims in court and force the former Trump aide to come back before the committee.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal called the hearing a “farce” and said Hicks was largely silenced by the White House counsel.

“Basically, she can say her name,” the congresswoman told Politico.

“She’s objecting to stuff that’s already in the public record,” California Democratic Rep. Karen Bass told the Associated Press. “It’s pretty ridiculous.”

Read more: House Oversight Committee holds Attorney General Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress

Rep. Ted Deutch, another Democratic committee member, told Politico that Hicks didn’t say anything in the hearing without the explicit permission of the White House lawyer.

“She made clear she wouldn’t answer a single question about her time unless the White House counsel told her it was okay,” he said.

Congressional staffers say a transcript of the hearing will likely be released in the next couple of days.

Trump weighed in on Hicks’ testimony Wednesday afternoon, criticizing Democrats of putting “wonderful Hope Hicks through hell.”

“So sad that the Democrats are putting wonderful Hope Hicks through hell, for 3 years now, after total exoneration by Robert Mueller & the Mueller Report,” he tweeted. “They were unhappy with result so they want a Do Over. Very unfair & costly to her. Will it ever end?”