The latest on the Trump impeachment inquiry
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper told members of Congress that Department of Defense personnel in Kiev were “expressing serious concerns” about withholding aid.
Cooper said that during the summer when the fate of the aid was in question, “our team in Kyiv was acutely aware of the hold and was expressing serious concerns to us.”
She clarified that those concerns were relayed to her in-person.
In today's episode of "The Daily DC: Impeachment Watch" podcast, CNN's Zachary Wolf looks at:
- How impeachment is playing out on the 2020 campaign trail
- How Democrats are taking their case for impeachment public and presenting it to the American people
- The Republicans' call for the whistleblower to be known and to testify
- Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney who has asked a court to allow him to join a lawsuit about the House subpoena power over White House witnesses in the impeachment probe
Wolf is joined today by Jeff Zeleny, CNN's senior Washington correspondent, and Julie Pace, CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief for the Associated Press.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper said that former National Security Council official Fiona Hill expressed concern about “kind of a parallel process” for foreign policy “multiple times,” but that she doesn’t recall Hill did not specifically mention President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani by name.
“I heard her remarks on multiple occasions that there was a separate track handling foreign policy. I don't recall her specifying Giuliani by name; but she did multiple times express concern that there was kind of a parallel process to the one that she was handling,” Cooper said.
“And, I mean, the way she characterized it was the challenge of managing and, you know, coordinating an interagency process when there are those who work outside of that process and have engagements with foreign officials that, you know, people inside the process are unaware of,” she added.
The House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry related to Ukraine will release transcripts of testimonies from two State Department experts on Ukraine tonight, according to an official working on the probe.
Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson, described as "two stars of the midlevel ranks" by a former State Department colleague, each worked as deputy to then-Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker.
About Croft: She took over the role from Anderson in the summer of 2019. She had previously served at the National Security Council, focusing on Ukraine issues, and on the State Department's Ukraine desk.
About Anderson: He is now taking language courses at the Foreign Service Institute ahead of his next overseas posting. He served at the US Embassy in Kiev.
Both have long memories of established US-Ukraine policy — another former State Department official who worked with them said they were "steeped in the policy issues."
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper told members of Congress that the Department of Defense was “concerned” with delaying aid to Ukraine.
Cooper said the agency’s concern was that removing the aid would have made “it much more difficult for them to negotiate a peace on terms that are good for Ukraine.”
“DOD was concerned about the obligation of funds. Policy, my team, we were also concerned about any signal that we would send to Ukraine about a wavering in our commitment. And that’s another reason why, I mean, we did not want for this to be a big public discussion, you know, if we were about to get it turned back on again because we didn’t want to signal any lack of support," she said.
Asked why withholding the funds would be a problem for Ukraine, Cooper said, “The first and easiest way to answer that is by looking at the peace process. They are trying to negotiate a peace with Russia, and if they are seen as weak, and if they are seen to lack the backing of the United States for their Armed Forces, it makes it much more difficult for them to negotiate a peace on terms that are good for Ukraine.”
The withholding of aid, she said, would embolden Russia and would weaken Ukraine as a strategic partner to the US.
Pentagon official Laura Cooper told members of Congress that at one point in August 2019, the Defense Department estimated that President Trump’s aid freeze would have totaled “well over $100 million.”
“I received different estimates at different points in time of what would be possible. And at one point, in August, [Defense Security Cooperation Agency] actually thought it would be, you know, well over $100 million that would not be—that there would not be time to obligate. They ended up being able to do a lot more than their earlier warnings, but we were quite concerned about the ability to execute,” Cooper said.
A member questioning Cooper clarified, “But it’s fair to say, at that point, it put $100 million of aid at risk?”
“That was my view at the time,” Cooper replied.
Pentagon official Laura Cooper told impeachment investigators the White House raised questions about a $250 million aid package to Ukraine shortly after it was publicly announced in June.
Cooper said a few days after a news release went out from the Pentagon announcing the aid, she received an email from her superiors with a list of questions about the package. She said the questions were described as follow-ups from a meeting at the White House with President Trump.
The questions, Cooper said, appeared to be prompted by the public announcement of the Ukraine aid, which had been authorized by Congress.
One question was about whether US companies would be involved in providing the military equipment to Ukraine. The second was related to how much other countries were contributing to Ukraine.
The third, she said, asked something like: “Who gave this money?”
She said the Pentagon provided written answers to the questions, but never heard anything back from the White House.
Laura Cooper, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, said that national security leaders across the US government shared the view that the military assistance to Ukraine was essential.
“My sense is that all of the senior leaders of the U.S. national security departments and agencies were all unified in their -- in their view that this assistance was essential, that we could work with the government of Ukraine to tackle corruption, and they were trying to find ways to engage the President on this,” she said.
Cooper said she did not have knowledge of “actual engagements” with the President.
Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper testified that at a meeting on July 26, it first became clear to her that the military aid to Ukraine that was affected by the hold was related to the President's concerns about corruption and that "immediately deputies began to raise concerns about how this could be done in a legal fashion."
"The 26th was the meeting that I was the backbencher for with the deputies’ level. And there it was to me anyway in my experience it was the first time it was stated very clearly what—that yes, it is FMF and AUSI [sic] are both affected by this hold and that it relates to the President’s concerns about corruption," she said.
"I’m not an expert on the law, but in that meeting immediately deputies began to raise concerns about how this could be done in a legal fashion because there was broad understanding in the meeting that the funding—the State Department funding related to an earmark for Ukraine and that the DOD funding was specific to Ukraine security assistance. So the comments in the room at the deputies’ level reflected a sense that there was not an understanding of how this could legally play out. And at that meeting the deputies agreed to look into the legalities and to look at what was possible."
Cooper also testified that during a meeting on July 23, the Office of Management and Budget told agencies that “the White House chief of staff has conveyed that the President has concerns about Ukraine and Ukraine security assistance."
" ... in that meeting again there was just this issue of the White House chief of staff has conveyed that the President has concerns about Ukraine and Ukraine security assistance. That was how it was conveyed in the meeting on the 23rd. So I walked away from the meeting on the 23rd thinking okay, we know that this is, you know, a larger issue," she told lawmakers," she said.