Trump aide declines to answer Russia panel questions about White House

Donald Trump's long-time aide Hope Hicks has declined to answer questions about her time in the White House during a nine-hour, closed-door interview, saying she was advised not to.

The House Intelligence Committee is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and any contacts between Mr Trump's campaign and Russia.

As one of Mr Trump's closest aides, Hicks is a key witness to his actions over the past several years. She was his spokeswoman during the presidential campaign and is now White House communications director.

The senior Democrat on the committee, Adam Schiff, said after the meeting that Ms Hicks answered questions about her role in Mr Trump's campaign and answered some questions about the transition period between the election and the inauguration.

But she would not answer any questions about events since he took the oath of office, similar to some other White House officials who have spoken to the committee.

Mr Schiff said Ms Hicks did not assert any type of executive privilege, but just said she had been advised not to answer.

She did answer a question about whether she had ever lied for her boss, saying she had told "white lies" for the president on occasion, according to a person familiar with the evidence.

The source, who declined to be named, said Ms Hicks told the panel she had not lied about anything substantive.

Republican Tom Rooney, a member of the intelligence panel who was in the interview, said Ms Hicks' answer was unrelated to the Russia investigation.

"When specifically asked whether or not she was instructed to lie by the president, or the candidate, with regard to Russia, the investigation or our investigation, the answer to that question was no," Mr Rooney said.

"And that's our jurisdiction. Not whether or not he asked her to cancel a meeting for him, or something like that."

While the investigation is focused on Russian interference during the campaign, House investigators also had questions about her time in the White House, including her role in drafting a statement responding to news reports about a 2016 meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russians.

That statement has been of particular interest to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating matters related to the Russian meddling and potential obstruction of an ongoing federal inquiry.

The White House has said the president was involved in drafting the statement after news of the meeting broke last summer.

The statement said the meeting primarily concerned a Russian adoption programme, though emails released later showed that Mr Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, enthusiastically agreed to the sit-down with a Russian lawyer and others after he was promised dirt on Mr Trump's presidential rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Ms Hicks was with the president on Air Force One while they were writing the initial statement.

"All of our questions about what went into that statement went unanswered," Mr Schiff said.

As the interview wore on, Ms Hicks and her lawyer relented on one area of questioning - the transition period between the election and the inauguration.

She initially refused to answer all those questions, but Mr Schiff said it became clear to the House legislators that she had answered questions about that time period in a separate interview with the Senate intelligence panel.

That committee is also investigating the meddling and spoke to Ms Hicks several months ago.

After House lawmakers argued she should treat the two committees equally, Ms Hicks and her lawyer conferred with the White House, Mr Schiff said. She then began to answer some questions related to the transition.

Mr Schiff said Democrats had asked for a subpoena after she refused to answer questions, but Republicans had declined to issue one.

That marks a difference from the Republican response to former White House strategist Steve Bannon, who also refused to answer questions, including about the transition.

Republicans subpoenaed him during his interview in January when he declined to answer, but Mr Bannon has yet to fully co-operate, despite a return visit to the panel two weeks ago.

The House is now considering whether to hold him in contempt.

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