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Hope Hicks blocked from answering more than 150 questions

WASHINGTON — Former top White House adviser Hope Hicks was blocked by President Donald Trump's lawyers from answering questions more than 150 times in a combative interview with the House Judiciary Committee this week, according to Democrats who released a 273-page transcript on Thursday.

Hicks refused to answer any questions related to her time working for President Donald Trump after he was elected, following orders from White House lawyers. Administration lawyers even blocked a question about where Hicks' desk was located in the White House — but eventually allowed her to answer questions about the weather on her first day of work and where she regularly ate lunch. (It was cloudy, and she ate at her desk.)

The transcript of Wednesday's interview is a taste of the court battle to come. The White House declared that Hicks was "absolutely immune" from discussing her time working at the White House because of separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., told White House lawyers that the immunity assertion is "absolute nonsense as a matter of law."

Later, he told the lawyers, after one of the objections: "I think we'll win in court on that one, but there's no point in wasting time on that now."

Hicks did answer questions about her time before and after she worked in the White House. But she declined to answer questions about her work for the president, with the White House lawyers who were present declaring "objection" over and over and over again.

"As a former senior adviser to the president, I'm following the instructions from the White House," she said.

Hicks showed flashes of humor in her exchanges with the Democrats who have been itching to investigate her longtime boss — at one point she jokes that she "had to get one in" after informing them she was in high school in 2005 — but much of the interview was tense.

Republicans said repeatedly that they felt the interview was a waste of time. They also chastised Democratic members who the Republicans said were taking prohibited photos of Hicks and live-tweeting the events inside the room.

"Now, if this is the way we want to play it, we've now proven that this is nothing but a political stunt," said Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the panel.

The interview frustrated Democrats who had hoped to get more information about several episodes that special counsel Robert Mueller reviewed for obstruction of justice.

Hicks was a key witness for Mueller, delivering important information to the special counsel's office about multiple episodes involving the president. Mueller wrote in his report released in April that there was not enough evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump's 2016 campaign and Russia, but said he could not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice.

Hicks did discuss a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer, one of the key events Mueller examined in the part of his report dealing with Russian election interference. Emails leading up to the meeting had promised dirt on Democrat Hillary Clinton. Hicks said she learned of the meeting in June 2017, weeks before it became public in the news media.

Hicks also said she discussed with Trump his comment on the campaign trail that openly encouraged Russia to find Clinton's missing emails. She counseled him as they flew to their next campaign stop that "that some in the media had taken the expression quite literally" and considered it inappropriate.

Appearing to break with the president, Hicks at one point said she would not accept dirt on a political opponent from a foreign government and would not advise someone on a campaign to do so.

Trump last week told ABC News that he'd listen to foreign dirt on an opponent, adding, "If I thought there was something wrong, I'd go maybe to the FBI."

In addition to looking at Russia, Mueller's report examined several situations in which Trump attempted to influence or curtail Mueller's investigation. Democrats asked ask Hicks about several of those episodes, including efforts to remove Mueller from the investigation, pressure on former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

They also asked Hicks about her knowledge of hush-money payments orchestrated by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump — the porn actress Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal. Trump has denied the allegations. Cohen is now serving three years in prison partly for campaign violations related to the payments.

Asked whether she had ever met Daniels or McDougal, that's when Hicks replied: "No, sir. I was in high school in 2005." She also said she was not "aware of a hush payment agreement."

She also repeated the answer she gave behind closed doors to the House intelligence panel last year that she sometimes told "white lies" for the president.

Asked by a Democratic member what those were, she said: "I've said that the President was busy when he wasn't. I've said that he had a conflict when he didn't. I've said that he would love to participate in an interview when I know that that would not be his first choice."

Hicks also told lawmakers she had dinner with Trump in April. "It was more of a reminiscing about events from the campaign, rallies, things like that," Hicks said. She said they did not discuss her testimony.

On Thursday, Trump said he heard Hicks was "terrific" in the interview.