March 02, 2018

In a phone interview on Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Florida, fired an opening salvo by saying the line of questioning began with "a bullsh*t question" posed by a Democrat.

"The whole line of questioning was a trap," said Rooney, who recently announced he would not run for re-election. "They sent her down a rabbit hole that she could not get out of. And it was completely unfair."

In a separate interview, the Democrat who led the questioning, U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California, fired back, "it's a question that is asked of witnesses every day across America – and most people don't have a hard time answering it."

After Hicks' interview on Tuesday concluded, The New York Times first reported that Hicks said her work for Mr. Trump occasionally required her to tell "white lies," but that she had not lied about matters related to ongoing Russia investigations. A committee official later confirmed the Times' reporting to CBS News. 

Rooney objected to what he believed was an outsized reaction to the Times' "white lies" report on Tuesday, alleging it was the result of a selective leak by Democrats and not a fair representation of the many hours of questioning that Hicks underwent. He also said the original inquiry was not relevant to the committee's report on Russia's election interference.

"I think the fair representation is that it was a setup: Use an extremely gratuitously broad question to make her look bad and ignore the rest of the nine hours that we were down there," Rooney said. 

Swalwell defended the question by pointing to Hicks' reaction to it. "If your response to the question, 'Have you ever been asked by your boss to lie for him?' is to take two time outs, we already know the answer to the question," Swalwell said, referring to pauses Hicks took to consult with her legal counsel during that round of questioning.

Swalwell said -- and Rooney acknowledged -- that Rooney was not in the room for the very beginning of the questioning, which began with Swalwell asking Hicks about her relationship with Mr. Trump. He said he asked whether Hicks and Mr. Trump had a "typical" employer-employee relationship.

"She said, 'Nothing is typical about it,'" given the number of hours she spends with the president and the nature of his role, Swalwell said.

He said he then asked if Hicks was "loyal" to the president, and she asked what he meant by the term.

"I think loyalty is being committed to somebody," Swalwell said, and asked, in turn, if she was "committed" to the president.

"She said, 'Yes, fully,'" Swalwell said.

It was then that he asked whether the president had ever asked Hicks to lie for him. Hicks and her counsel then conferred for "five to ten minutes," and she responded, according to Swalwell, by saying, "I have never been asked to lie with respect to the Russia investigation."

Rooney said he objected at the time to the breadth of Swalwell's question and engaged in a "back and forth" with Swalwell and House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff, D-California. Rooney asked aloud whether the question meant if Mr. Trump had ever asked Hicks to tell someone he was busy, or on the phone, or not around, or to answer, 'Does this suit make me fat?'

An appropriate question, and one which would fit within the parameters of what the committee was investigating, Rooney said, would have been specific to its Russia investigation.

"So I asked her specifically with regard to the substance of our investigation," whether she had been asked to lie, and she said 'No,'" Rooney said.

"I also asked 'Have you lied to us here today?' And she said, 'No,'" Rooney said.

Swalwell did not dispute Rooney's account or Hicks' answers to his questions. But after Hicks continued to refuse to answer Swalwell's question as it was posed, he and Schiff asked the Texas Republican leading the investigation, U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway to subpoena Hicks on the spot. According to Swalwell, Conaway said the committee should complete its interview, first, and declined to issue one.

Swalwell said he then asked Hicks whether she ever lied for Mr. Trump, and she again refused to answer. Swalwell said he and Schiff again asked for a subpoena.  

According to Swalwell, Hicks then consulted for a second time with her lawyer, again said she had never lied about any matter related to the Russia investigations, and added that she never "knowingly" lied for Mr. Trump, apart from some "white lies" related to his availability or equivalent trivialities. 

Rooney said Hicks repeated the words "white lies" after another member first said them. Swalwell said he never used the phrase.  

After Hicks provided that answer, Rooney said Swalwell "went through the phone book," asking Hicks whether a "litany of 50" people, including "the entire Trump family," had ever asked Hicks to lie. The list of names, both Rooney and Swalwell said, included Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Paul Manafort, Corey Lewandowski, Michael Cohen and others. Swalwell also asked Hicks whether she heard Mr. Trump ask others to lie for him.

Hicks gave a "blanket" response by declining to answer in each instance, Rooney said. "She wasn't going to respond to those questions – and she shouldn't have," Rooney said. 

Swalwell said the questions were not only merited, but ultimately illustrative, because Hicks refused to answer in every case but one – about former national security advisor Gen. Michael Flynn. In that one case, Swalwell said, Hicks responded that Flynn never asked her to lie for him "in the campaign."

"What about during the transition," he says he asked, and said Hicks replied Flynn had asked her to present something to be true that she later learned to be false. Her willingness to respond in Flynn's case and not in others, Swalwell said, suggested she might have been choosing whom to protect.

Rooney maintained that both the nature of the exchange itself and the high-profile reports about it highlighted the need for the committee to bring its year-long investigation to a close. Leaks, in particular, have "poisoned this whole investigation," Rooney said.

"Why would anyone come and interview with us anymore, ever again?" Rooney asked. 

An attorney for Hicks declined to comment.

Article: CBS News By Olivia Victoria Gazis