US President Donald Trump’s long-time aide Hope Hicks is declining to answer questions about her time in the White House in a closed-door interview with the House intelligence committee.
The panel is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and any contacts between Mr Trump’s campaign and Russia.
As one of Trump’s closest aides, Ms Hicks is a key witness to his actions over the past several years. She was his spokeswoman during the 2016 presidential campaign and is now White House communications director.
As the interview went into the afternoon, several members of the committee said during breaks that Ms Hicks was declining to answer any questions from her time in the White House.
Others who have worked in the White House, including former strategist Steve Bannon, have also declined to talk about that time in interviews with the committee.
“There are some questions that she’s not going to answer,” said Republican Representative Chris Stewart of Utah.
Democratic Representative Mike Quigley of Illinois, another member of the panel, said Ms Hicks and her lawyer were “following the orders of the White House not to answer certain questions”.
Another person familiar with Ms Hicks’ evidence said her lawyer is responding to questions about that time period by saying the White House has advised her not to answer and by saying she will take some questions “under advisement”.
At the beginning of the day, Ms Hicks was also declining to answer questions about the transition period between the election and the inauguration. But as the interview came close to its eighth hour, a Republican lawmaker said that Ms Hicks had started to answer some questions from that time.
“They actually opened up some questions on the transition, so that’s good,” said Florida Representative Tom Rooney as he left the meeting. He said she has answered “everything” they have asked about the time period during the campaign.
It is unclear whether the committee will subpoena Ms Hicks for answers. The panel subpoenaed Mr Bannon last month after he refused to answer questions, but he has yet to co-operate. The House is now considering whether to hold Mr Bannon in contempt.
âWeâve seen NO EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION....I have seen nothing, the firing of James Comey and all of the aftermath, that suggests that the President has obstructed justice because heâs exercising his power as the President of the U.S. I just donât see it.â Judge Ken Starr— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 27, 2018
WITCH HUNT!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 27, 2018
Ms Hicks arrived shortly after 10am through a rear entrance to the committee’s interview space and did not answer shouted questions from reporters.
This is the second interview she has done as part of the congressional Russia probes — she was also interviewed by the Senate intelligence committee several months ago, according to a person familiar with that interview.
In the hours before Ms Hicks’ arrival, Mr Trump tweeted several times, quoting cable news commentators who said they had not seen evidence of collusion between Mr Trump and Russia. One tweet encouraged investigations of his Democratic presidential rival, Hillary Clinton. And a last tweet simply said “WITCH HUNT!”
Asked about Ms Hicks’ refusal to answer some questions, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said “we are co-operating because as the president has said repeatedly there is no collusion, and we’re going to continue to co-operate, and hopefully they’ll wrap this up soon.”