The House impeachment inquiry on Monday released a transcript of the testimony of Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant defense secretary for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia.
Cooper’s testimony was delayed for hours last month when Republican representatives who weren’t members of the committees leading the impeachment inquiry stormed the secure room in which Cooper’s testimony was being held. After the interlopers finally cleared the room, Cooper testified for over three hours — a long time, but significantly less than other witnesses.
Cooper was the first Pentagon official to testify in the inquiry. Here are a few takeaways from her testimony:
The White House hold on the Ukraine aid took the Pentagon by surprise.
Despite Congress approving $250 million in Defense Department funds for Ukraine months earlier and the Pentagon confirming that the country had met the benchmarks necessary to receive the aid, Cooper found out due to a July 18 meeting, as did other impeachment inquiry witnesses, that the White House had placed a hold on the money.
Cooper had sent a deputy to the meeting, which was led by the White House’s National Security Council. In it, a White House budget official (“I don’t know who” specifically, Cooper said) announced that “they were holding the congressional notification related to [foreign military financing],” Cooper recalled being told.
As with other agencies, that news prompted confusion at the Pentagon: Why was the aid being held up?
“We tried to clarify, there’s no guidance for DOD at this time. Is this correct? And they did not have specific guidance for DOD at the time,” Cooper said, adding later: “The funds were held without explanation.”
Officials were concerned about the legal implications of holding up the money
Cooper testified that she first learned at a July 26 meeting that President Trump was holding up the money over his “concerns about corruption” in Ukraine.
But at that meeting, she said officials raised concerns about the legality of such a hold. (The Government Accountability Office is currently looking into this question, too.)
“In that meeting immediately deputies began to raise concerns about how this could be done in a legal fashion,” Cooper testified, adding that “senior leaders were expressing that they didn’t see how this was legally available.”
Officials were worried the White House wouldn’t free up the money in time
There was another legal question, too, one the White House later acknowledged: The funds expired on Sept. 30.
Cooper said her office “was trying to figure out how we could get the funds released” and “how long we could delay obligation and still be able to obligate the entirety of the funding prior to September 30.”
After news of the holdup was revealed and Trump faced intense bipartisan pressure, he released the funds on Sept. 12. But by Aug. 20 or so, Cooper testified, “we were really losing hope because we knew that we weren’t going to be able to obligate everything by the end of the fiscal year so we were concerned about the actual program impacts.”
The Pentagon heard about the White House pressure campaign, too
Several witnesses have told the impeachment inquiry that the money was held up over Trump’s insistence that Ukraine announce investigations that would be politically useful to his 2020 reelection effort. Cooper said the Pentagon heard a version of this, too.
Around Aug. 20, Cooper said, she met with the then-U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker — one of a handful of Trump officials who pressed Ukraine for the investigations.
“He did mention something to me that, you know was the first about somehow 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 the U.S. elections and would commit to the prosecuction of any individuals involved in election interference,” Cooper recalled.
The obsession with purported Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election is a well-worn conspiracy theory for Trump by now. He brought up a version of the conspiracy on his now-infamous phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Read Cooper’s testimony here, or below:
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