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Democrats to grill Hope Hicks on Mueller probe during closed-door hearing

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are expected to grill former White House communications director Hope Hicks when she appears before the panel during a closed-door hearing Wednesday morning. 

Members of the Democratic majority on the committee, one of several embroiled in a tense standoff with the White House over testimony and troves of documents, will press Hicks on the hush money payments President Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and key moments during the Russia investigation, a Democratic committee aide told CBS News. 

The aide added that lawmakers will ask Hicks about former national security adviser Michael Flynn's ouster, the president's decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, his efforts to thwart special counsel Robert Mueller's nearly two-year investigation and an infamous meeting at Trump Tower in the summer of 2016.

Hicks left the White House in March 2018. Before her roles as director of communications and strategic communications, she was the national press secretary for Mr. Trump's presidential transition team and his top spokeswoman during the 2016 campaign. 

Democratic lawmakers and staff expect the White House — which will have a lawyer present during the hearing — to assert executive privilege on some of the information they will press Hicks to divulge, the aide said. The majority will ask the White House to put all assertions of executive privilege on the record and address them on a case by case basis.  

According to the aide, Democrats believe the White House can't invoke executive privilege on questions about the 2016 campaign or on information Hicks discussed with Mueller's team and that the president has talked about publicly. 

The committee's expectations appeared to be confirmed Tuesday afternoon when White House Counsel Pat Cipollone told House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler in a letter obtained by CBS News, "Ms. Hicks is absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony with respect to matters occurring during her service as a senior adviser to the President."

Cipollone said Mr. Trump directed Hicks not to answer any questions relating to her work in the White House. Earlier this month, he directed Hicks not to hand over documents to the committee related to her time in the White House in response to a subpoena from the Judiciary Committee. She did turn over some documents from her time with the Trump campaign.

Since Democrats regained control of the House in January, the president has accused them of staging a partisan campaign of "presidential harassment" and vowed to stymie all of their investigations.

The administration has blocked current and former officials from testifying in hearings on Mueller's probe and the legal battle over the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census. The White House has also withheld troves of documents requested by Democratic-led committees, including the president's long-sought tax returns.

Although more than 50 Democratic lawmakers in the House and many 2020 presidential contenders have now vouched their support for an impeachment inquiry, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has urged a more cautious approach, arguing that an impeachment drive could turn out to be a political gift for the president, who thrives on confrontation.

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