In a stunning departure from the code of silence that has kept all percipient witnesses to President Donald Trump’s conduct detailed in Volume II of the Robert Mueller report, the president’s former close aide Hope Hicks has agreed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee.
The Washington Post reports: “Hicks will be the first former Trump aide to go before the committee investigating whether Trump tried to obstruct a probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. But Hicks might not answer many of the panel’s questions, citing the president’s assertion of executive privilege on events that occurred inside the White House.” Despite the White House’s bogus claim of absolute immunity, Hicks’ agreement to appear signifies that the ruse is up: If called to testify under subpoena, witnesses know they are obligated to appear.
While the testimony will occur behind closed doors, this is frankly a minor concession to lure in a very big fish. Apparently, a transcript will be released immediately, so we will know exactly what she said. Although a member of the White House Counsel’s Office will be in the room, unjustified attempts to silence Hicks might be ignored, or alternatively form the basis of a record that will support a court order telling the White House to back off.
This is actually the second time a Trump confidante has crossed the president. Faced with a contempt vote Attorney General William Barr blinked and began to provide materials from Mueller’s investigation. The House will be learning much more regarding who said exactly what about Trump and what the strength of the evidence was.
It cannot be stressed how damaging to Trump Hicks’ testimony may be. As a close confidante, she would have had communications not only with him but others in the White House. If Trump made self-incriminating statements, there is no more powerful witness than Hicks. The Post reports:
“She was well-liked in Trump’s West Wing and held inordinate power due to her close relationships with the family, even as she acknowledged to colleagues that she was not a policy guru. She often spent hours in the Oval Office every day, and the president affectionately called her ‘Hopey.’
“She was present for many of the most contentious episodes during the campaign and in the White House before she left the West Wing in February 2018, and she has kept in occasional touch with the president and some of his closest advisers.”
In a written statement, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., explained: “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.” He continued: “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. We look forward to her testimony and plan to make the transcript promptly available to the public.”
It should be noted that there is no immunity or claim of immunity for events during the campaign. Separately, Nadler has promised that he will seek to subpoena Mueller to testify.
The White House strategy of asserting absolute immunity – a claim that has no basis in law – is collapsing. First, courts ordered financial records to be produced. Now Hicks is coming forward. The House will proceed to enforce its subpoena against former White House counsel Donald McGahn; when it does, he may not have the luxury of testifying in private.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., can breathe a sigh of relief. Her strategy of fact-finding without the label of impeachment is now paying off in spades. The House is on the verge of getting precisely the same materials it would have in hearings labeled “impeachment.” Ironically, Trump’s stonewalling has about the same status as his border wall – a figment of his imagination.
Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post. Follow her @JRubinBlogger.