By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, once a close aide to President Donald Trump, has agreed to turn over documents related to his 2016 election campaign to congressional investigators, a top Democratic lawmaker said on Tuesday.
The agreement marks a step forward for House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler in investigations of Republican Trump and his inner circle, digging into the campaign, his turbulent presidency and business interests.
Hicks, Trump’s former campaign press secretary, agreed to supply the documents from the campaign, despite a White House directive advising her not to provide the committee with material from her subsequent time at the White House.
She and former White House lawyer Annie Donaldson were subpoenaed on May 21 by the panel as part of its inquiry into whether Trump obstructed Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and contacts between Trump’s campaign and Moscow.
Hicks’ attorney Robert Trout said in a letter to Nadler that Hicks would not hand over documents related to Trump’s time in the White House and his presidential transition period because administration attorneys believe the papers may be subject to a claim of executive privilege by Trump.
Trout said Hicks was handing over a computer disc containing documents from Trump’s campaign period that were not previously given to the committee.
He said his law firm would not provide any documents it had received from the White House and transition team to prepare Hicks for her testimony before congressional committees or Mueller’s investigation.
The White House instructed Hicks and Donaldson not to turn over records related to the administration, saying the material involves executive branch confidentiality interests and executive privilege. Hicks resigned from her White House job in February 2018.
The two former aides “do not have the legal right to disclose the White House records to third parties,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone said in a letter to Nadler.
Nadler commended Hicks for providing “some documents” relating to the campaign.
“I thank her for that show of good faith,” Nadler said in a statement. The Democrat criticized what he called Trump’s “continued obstruction of Congress.”
Nadler said: “The president has no lawful basis for preventing these witnesses from complying with our request.”
The committee chairman told reporters that Hicks and Donaldson, a former aide to ex-White House counsel Don McGahn, could face contempt proceedings if they do not comply.
“When we ask for documents to be turned over, we expect all of the documents to be turned over. We’re the Congress of the United States,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, a Democrat on Nadler’s committee.
“The president and the White House continue to play games. It’s not a game,” Raskin said.
Donaldson did not respond to requests for comment.
The House of Representatives is poised to vote on a contempt resolution against Attorney General William Barr, who defied a Judiciary Committee subpoena for the unredacted Mueller report. A vote has been scheduled for June 11.
On Tuesday, the Justice Department offered to move forward on negotiations about the Mueller report only if lawmakers cut short their drive to hold Barr in contempt.
Nadler rejected that request in a letter to Barr later in the day, urging the attorney general to return to negotiations without conditions and saying there was “simply no justification for your refusal.”
The committee is seeking any material Hicks has on a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York between campaign officials including the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner and Russians offering to help Trump’s candidacy.
The subpoena also seeks documents relating to any payments made to Trump’s convicted former personal lawyer Michael Cohen. Cohen said Trump directed “hush money” payments he made for two women’s silence before the election about their alleged sexual relations with Trump.
Representative Doug Collins, top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, called for hearings on Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign and potential foreign threats to the 2020 race, a move Nadler said he welcomed. [nL2N23B1A4]
The committee has scheduled separate hearings with Hicks and Donaldson for later this month. It is also seeking documents from the two former aides on dozens of topics ranging from an FBI investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn to the termination of James Comey as FBI director and the appointment of Mueller.
(Reporting by David Morgan in Washington and Steve Holland in London; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey and Susan Cornwell; Editing by James Dalgleish, Grant McCool and Peter Cooney)