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Pentagon official testifies that she was told Ukrainians were alarmed by stalled aid

Posted at 6:08 PM, Nov 11, 2019

A key Pentagon official told House impeachment investigators that former US special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker told her Ukrainian officials were alarmed in August that US security aid was being held up — an indication Kiev was aware of the delay earlier than it was reported publicly, according to a deposition transcript released Monday.

Laura Cooper, the Pentagon's deputy assistant secretary for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, told lawmakers behind closed doors last month that she met with Volker in August to discuss the hold on aid. She said Volker told her in their meeting that he was attempting to lift the hold on the aid by having the Ukrainians deliver a public statement that they would launch the investigations being sought by President Donald Trump.

She described Volker seeking a statement from the Ukrainians about opening investigations into election interference that would trigger a release in the aid.

"I knew from my Kurt Volker conversation and also from sort of the alarm bells that were coming from Ambassador (Bill) Taylor and his team that there were Ukrainians who knew about this," Cooper said, describing the Ukrainians as aware of the freeze on aid in August 2019. "The context for the discussion that I had with Ambassador Volker related specifically to the path that he was pursuing to lift the hold would be to get them to make this statement, but the only reason they would do that is because there was, you know, something valuable."

Cooper's deposition was one of three transcripts released Monday by House Democrats. They also made public the interviews last month of two former deputies of Volker, Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson . According to his opening statement, Anderson told lawmakers last month that then-national security adviser John Bolton cautioned about the influence Rudy Giuliani had on US-Ukraine policymaking during a meeting in mid-June with top US officials.

Cooper's interview transcript provides new detail about how the Ukrainians learned that $400 million in security aid was held up, even before it was reported in late August. While her testimony does not contain major revelations or accusations that hit at the core of the Democrats' impeachment case, her interview provided lawmakers with technical details about how the aid was held up — and how the Ukraine hold diverged from the norm.

Cooper testified that at a meeting on July 26 — the day after Trump's phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — 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 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 added.

Cooper testified that individuals at the Department of Defense and other agencies believed Ukraine was making progress in combatting corruption, enough to continue providing the aid being challenged by OMB.

"It was unanimous with the exception of the statements by OMB representatives, and those statements were relaying higher level guidance," Cooper said.

Cooper has been the only Pentagon witness to testify so far as part of the House Democratic impeachment inquiry into Trump and Ukraine. She testified the day that a group of House Republican lawmakers barged into the House Intelligence Committee secure spaces to protest the Democratic-run impeachment inquiry. The stunt, which was led by GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, delayed her deposition for five hours.