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Hope Hicks confirms Trump was serious about accepting foreign election interference in 2020

"I don't think that was a joke based on what I saw."

(Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
(Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

When former White House communications director Hope Hicks spoke to the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday, she didn’t answer many questions. In fact, USA Today counted 155 questions that she refused to answer. But she did address a few questions about President Donald Trump, including whether he would accept dirt on his election opponents from foreign adversaries in 2020, as he claimed in a recent interview.

Yes, Hicks confirmed, Trump was serious about that.

Committee lawyer Norman Eisen first asked Hicks about Trump’s public statement during the 2016 campaign asking Russia to “find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” referring to deleted messages on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Hicks said that based on her conversations with Trump immediately afterward, she believed the remark had been “a little bit tongue-in-cheek” and not “intended as an instructive or a directive to a foreign government.”

Hicks called the comment “a joke,” and said that then-candidate Trump “intended [it] as a light-hearted comment.”

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But when Eisen asked about comments Trump made just last week in an interview with ABC News, saying he would willingly accept foreign information on an opponent in the next election — “It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it,” he said at the time — Hicks’ tone shifted.

“I don’t think that was a joke based on what I saw,” she said, noting that she may not have seen enough of the interview to know all the context.

Hicks then said that she would not accept such information and would advise others against it as well.

Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) confirmed Hicks’ responses in a statement following the hearing, saying the former communications director had “made clear that she understood the president to be serious when he said that he would accept foreign interference in our elections,” and “knew that such foreign assistance should be rejected and reported to the FBI.”

Following Trump’s recent comments, Federal Elections Committee Chair Ellen Weintraub released a statement reiterating that it was “illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.”

Despite this warning, Trump doubled down in an interview last Friday with Fox & Friends, saying he would like to see any dirt on opponents from foreign adversaries before reporting it. “You have to look at it, because if you don’t look at it you won’t know it’s bad,” he said.

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Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, introduced legislation this week that would clarify that any information from foreign officials that offers a political advantage indeed counts as something “of value.” It would also impose a fine or jail time for anyone who knowingly violates the statute.

Democrats are currently investigating at least five instances of possible obstruction involving Trump, as laid out in special counsel’s final report, made public in April, and had hoped Hicks would shed some light on those incidents in her testimony this week. However, Hicks patently refused to answer most substantive questions she was asked this week, including about various findings in the Mueller report, as well as her conversations with the president.

This article has been corrected to state that committee lawyer Norman Eisen asked Hicks about Trump’s 2020 election interference comments. A previous version of this article stated that Congressman Gary Eisen (R-MI) had asked the question.