Pentagon Official Testifies That Withholding Ukraine Aid May Have Been Unlawful

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House Democrats on Monday released the impeachment inquiry transcript of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper, who testified that President Donald Trump subverted legal protocol this summer when he froze a congressionally authorized $400 military aid package to Ukraine without informing Congress.

Cooper, who testified to congressional investigators on October 23, is responsible for shoring up the U.S. relationship with Ukraine amidst Russian aggression. Part of Cooper’s job was helping Ukraine allocate the aid funding.

The impeachment probe is looking into allegations that Trump misused his position to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy into publicly undertaking politically-motivated investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his family, as well as whether Ukraine intervened in the 2016 U.S. election in order to assist former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Cooper explained to congressional investigators that her department received guidance to hold the aid in mid-July, 2019. It “was a source of concern,” Cooper said, according to the transcript.

At a July 26 meeting, the day following Trump’s phone call with Zelenskiy, Cooper testified that “it was stated very clearly” that the interruption of aid was related to Trump’s desire for a corruption investigation, and that “deputies began to raise concerns about how this could be done in a legal fashion.”

There were “only two legally available options” to freeze the aid, she testified: the Department of Defense needed to complete “a reprogramming action,” or Trump needed to submit a rescission notice to Congress. In either case, congressional notification is needed, which “did not occur.”

On August 20, Cooper met with former special envoy Kurt Volker, who she says detailed “an effort that he was engaged in to see if there was a statement that the government of Ukraine would make that would somehow disavow any interference in U.S. elections and would commit to the prosecution of any individuals involved in election interference.” According to Cooper’s account, Volker wanted Ukrainian officials to publicly announce the desired anti-corruption investigation in exchange for military aid to the country.

“The context for the discussion that I had with Ambassador Volker,” Cooper continued, “related specifically to the path that he was pursuing to lift the hold would be to get them to make this statement.”

Cooper also testified that, by mid-August, it was clear that “there were Ukrainians who knew about this.” That statement contradicts claims made by Trump that Ukraine’s government was not aware of the hold-up until later in the month, when they learned it from publicly available news reports.

“Neither he (Taylor) or any other witness has provided testimony that the Ukrainians were aware that military aid was being withheld. You can’t have a quid pro quo with no quo,” Trump tweeted on October 23, quoting Rep. John Ratcliffe’s (R–Texas) appearance on Fox and Friends.

Cooper’s deposition originally made headlines after a group of Republicans stormed the space in protest of the closed-door hearings, delaying her testimony by five hours.

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