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Senior Officials Counter Trump Defense that Ukraine Didn’t Know Aid Was Being Held Back

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Senior Officials Counter Trump Defense that Ukraine Didn’t Know Aid Was Being Held Back

2019-11-12 13:38:46

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Laura Cooper (Image source: Public domain)

The House Democrats are continuing their transcript dump. Republicans complained that everything was being kept private, but now that it’s out in the open, they aren’t very appreciative of that, either.

Monday’s release of transcripts included those of  Catherine Croft, Ukraine specialist at the State Department; Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia; and Christopher Anderson of the State Department. 

Two of the three transcripts show that Ukraine was aware that nearly $400 million in military aid was being withheld. This takes away one of Donald Trump’s key defenses that it was not a quid pro quo situation. He has said it couldn’t be because the money was released before Ukraine knew it was being held.

This money was being held back, testimony has also shown, because Trump wanted Ukraine to conduct investigations into whether Ukraine interfered with the 2016 election to help former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son who previously did work for Ukraine, Hunter Biden. 

Croft testified to the impeachment inquiry that Ukrainians “found out very early on” that aid was being withheld. This was a decision that was made, on Trump’s direction, by the Office of Management and Budget and shared with other administration officials on July 18, a week before the president called his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, where testimony and the call transcript has shown he asked him to conduct the investigations in exchange for the aid. Testimony has also shown he was also promising a White House visit in exchange for the investigations.

Cooper testified that Kurt Volker, the U.S. special envoy for Ukraine who resigned in September, led her to make a “very strong inference” that Ukraine knew there was a hold on the aid much before it was made public. 

Volker also told her during a meeting sometime around August 20 that he was working through a diplomatic channel that was “nontraditional” to get Kyiv to agree to prosecute people involved in U.S. election interference in 2016 and that the aid could be released if they saw results.

Cooper noted she didn’t know many of the details behind Volker’s efforts with this, yet Anderson testified that Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland were involved. 

Anderson indicated that Sondland was “taken more seriously” than career officials with the State Department and also appeared to have a “connection to the White House.” He remembered then-national security adviser John Bolton saying that “every time Ukraine is mentioned, Giuliani pops up and that the president was listening to Giuliani about Ukraine.”

Cooper told the House panel that Ukrainian leaders would not have gone along with Volker’s request to publicly denounce election interference and promising to prosecute unless they were getting “something valuable” in return. 

“There were two specific things that the Government of Ukraine wanted during this time frame,” she testified. “One was ... a hosted visit at the White House. And the other was Ukraine security assistance.”

Cooper added that Acting Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor was also ringing “alarm bells .. that there were Ukrainians who knew” about withholding the aid, but she didn’t specify when he was doing so. 

The transcripts of these officials show that Trump, along with Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and the Office of Management and Budget, went against nearly every other government agency involved in foreign policy in Ukraine to make this deal. It should be noted, too, that Mulvaney led the OMB before becoming the acting chief of staff.

Croft and Cooper testified that they learned that Ukraine’s aid was being withheld on July 18, but Croft explains, “the only reason given was that it came at the direction of the president.” 

Yet, Cooper showed that this was against the Pentagon’s wishes, as it gave its final approval for the Ukraine aid in May, with all vested departments believing the assistance was “essential.” Officials at the departments were “trying to find ways to engage the president” to allow the funding, with a concern of “how this could legally play out.”

While Mulvaney said last month that there was an effort to stamp out corruption in Ukraine as the reason military aid was being withheld, Cooper told the House panel that U.S officials outside of OMB resisted efforts to re-examine corruption. She stated the Pentagon never performed additional anti-corruption reviews in July, August, or September because officials “affirmed that we believed sufficient progress has been made.” 

She further testified that among the other agencies involved with the Ukraine aid, there was “unanimous” positive impression with the anti-corruption work, “with the exception of the statements by OMB representatives.”

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