The White House blocked the House Intelligence Committee from interviewing Hope Hicks, a close aide to President Donald Trump, that had been set for Friday, according to the top Democrat on the panel—a move that again raises obstruction of justice concerns.
Plans for Hicks’s testimony were scrubbed after the panel’s Wednesday interview with witness Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s 2016 campaign manager, Representative Adam Schiff said.
“Following Mr. Lewandowski’s testimony and refusal to answer questions, the administration canceled entirely an interview scheduled for Friday with another key witness in our investigation,” Schiff said in a statement, referring to Hicks. “If that interview has been rescheduled, the date has not yet been shared with the minority.”
Hicks was supposed to meet with the House Intelligence Committee on Friday as part of its probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and any links to political campaigns. But there is some dispute about whether the White House or the committee itself canceled the Hicks meeting.
Whichever side canceled the meeting, the move comes days after the administration—and reportedly President Donald Trump—instructed Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, to not answer the committee’s questions on certain topics. Schiff had previously criticized the White House’s apparent assertion of executive privilege to block some questions.
“The scope of this assertion of privilege, if that’s what it is, is breathtaking,” he said, calling it “effectively a gag order by the White House.”
A person with knowledge of the Hicks interview arrangements disputed Schiff’s version of events, telling Newsweek that the committee postponed the interview, not the White House. That person spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the closed-door matter.
A White House spokesperson was not available to comment about the Hicks statement. But Politico on Thursday quoted an unnamed administration official as saying Schiff was “not telling the truth.”
And in an apparent email to members of the panel on Thursday, the committee’s chief clerk cited concerns the committee had regarding Bannon’s interview, not a directive from the White House, as the reason for the cancellation, according to Politico. “In light of the issues concerning executive privilege that emerged during Mr. Bannon’s interview, tomorrow’s interview with Hope Hicks has been POSTPONED,” the email reportedly said.
A spokesperson for Representative Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was not available to comment to Newsweek.
The House panel had previously expressed frustration about the involvement of the White House in its interview with Bannon, resulting in the committee’s issuing a subpoena compelling him to answer more questions. Foreign Policy reported Thursday that Trump “personally” instructed Bannon not to answer certain questions. One legal analyst believed that such a directive could constitute obstruction of justice or witness tampering, though other analysts disagreed.
The Hicks interview would have capped a busy week for the House panel, following interviews with Bannon, Lewandowski and Rick Dearborn, the White House deputy chief of staff. On Thursday, the committee also released the transcript of an interview it did with Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of research company Fusion GPS, which compiled a controversial dossier on Trump.
Hicks is also reportedly a witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe and met with members of his team in December. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has also requested an interview from Hicks as part of that panel’s Russia probe.
Robert Trout, a lawyer for Hicks, declined to comment.
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