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Defense Official Testifies Ukrainians Asked About Security Assistance Same Day as Trump-Zelensky Call

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Defense Official Testifies Ukrainians Asked About Security Assistance Same Day as Trump-Zelensky Call

2019-11-21 13:55:11

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

While undoubtedly the most damaging testimony on Wednesday came from U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, the later two witnesses, Laura Cooper and David Hale, had key testimony as well. This holds true especially for Cooper who testified that Ukrainians were asking about aid from the United States on the same day as the Donald Trump - Volodymyr Zelensky call. 

The whistleblower first called attention to the call where the released transcript shows Trump asking the Ukranian president to conduct investigations of his past and present political rivals and seems to make a White House visit and the military aid contingent on the investigations.

When Cooper took the stand, she said her staff heard through the State Department, just hours after Trump and Zelensky spoke, that the Ukrainian Embassy and the House Foreign Affairs Committee knew "to an extent" that aid that is controlled through the State Department's foreign military financing accounts had been frozen, and they began questioning it. 

"On July 25, a member of my staff got a question from a Ukraine Embassy contact asking what was going on with Ukraine security assistance," she testified. When she gave her deposition last month, she was not aware of the communications but became aware afterward, that the Office of Management and Budget had blocked the State form sending the funds, as previous testimony has said.

Her testimony threatens one of Trump's main defenses, that the Ukrainians were not even aware that the U.S. had frozen the aid. House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA), who is leading the impeachment hearings, told Cooper she was "the first to indicate that [knowledge about the hold on security aid] may go back as early as the date of the president's call with President Zelensky. 

Hale, a witness brought by the GOP, said he would think it would be unusual to withhold military aid to pressure another country to conduct investigations of political opponents.

"That would be inconsistent with the conduct of our foreign policy in general," he said. "It's certainly not what I would do." 

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) asked Cooper if she was told why the aid was frozen, and she replied she didn't know why since the funds had already been cleared for it.

She also agreed with the congresswoman that the funds were necessary to help Ukraine in its war with Russia. "I and my [Department of Defense] colleagues advocated strenuously for the release of these funds because of their national security importance," she said. 

The White House immediately issued talking points that it circulated via email, challenging Cooper's testimony that the Ukrainians knew of the aid freeze on the day of Trump's call with Zelensky.

"This is just an assumption based on Ukraine bringing up the aid. Simply discussing the aid in no way means they knew it was being withheld," read a talking point. The White House also stated that Zelensky and many other witnesses have made it "abundantly clear" that Ukraine didn't know of the aid freeze in July. 

Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) threw the talking points back to Cooper, noting that just because her staff received questions about the aid, it doesn't mean the Ukrainians knew it was put on hold.

Cooper agreed she can't say for certain they knew but that it was the "recollection of [her] staff" that the Ukrainians probably knew about it before it was reported in Politico. 

Schiff ended the day's testimony by saying Trump "demonstrates — in word and deed — corruption," adding, "When [countries around the world] see a president of the United States who is not devoted to the rule of law ... they are forced to ask themselves: what does America stand for anymore?"

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