Hold on Ukraine Aid: Takeaways From Pentagon & State Department Officials

WASHINGTON (CN) – In its second hearing of the day in the ongoing impeachment inquiry, the House Intelligence Committee heard Wednesday from Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for Ukraine Laura Cooper and top State Department official David Hale. These are the key takeaways from their testimony.

Ukrainian official asked about aid on day of Trump-Zelensky call
While much of Cooper’s testimony touched on details she already mentioned in her closed-door testimony, she said her staff informed her after her deposition was released about several communications about the aid that came in on the same day as the infamous call between President Donald Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.

State Department official David Hale, left, looks on as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper gives her opening statement Wednesday while testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump’s efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

In her role at the Defense Department, Cooper is involved in the processing of military assistance and she testified she became aware in July that the White House had put a hold on a nearly $400 million aid package to Ukraine.

On July 25, the same day as the Trump-Zelensky call that has become the basis of the inquiry, an official with the Ukrainian embassy reached out to a member of Cooper’s staff asking about the status of the security assistance package.

The staff member told the official at the time the U.S. was “moving forward” with the aid, Cooper said.

Cooper said the request made it seem as though the Ukrainian officials were concerned about the status of the aid, which other witnesses have testified was conditioned on Ukraine announcing investigations into meddling during the 2016 presidential election and into Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company on whose board Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, sat.

“I would say specifically, the Ukrainian embassy staff asked what is going on with Ukrainian security assistance,” Cooper testified.

Separately, an email from the State Department on the afternoon of July 25 said both the Ukrainian embassy and the House Foreign Affairs committee had asked about the status of the Ukrainian aid package. A second email later that day said, “The Hill knows about the [aid] situation to an extent, and so does the Ukrainian embassy.”

Cooper said she had not previously been aware of the interactions and that she was not copied on the emails, but that her staff let her know about them after reading her deposition.

The testimony suggests Ukraine may have known about the hold on the aid earlier than has been previously reported. Republicans have been using the reporting that Ukraine did not know about the hold on the aid package until the first week of August at the earliest as a defense of Trump.

Office of Management and Budget was on an island with the hold
Hale told the committee he found out the aid was being withheld at Trump’s direction on July 26 in an interagency meeting, when a representative of the Office of Management and Budget informed the administration officials who had gathered for the meeting.

Along with Cooper, Hale testified OMB’s position on the hold was an outlier in the federal government.

“The only agency represented in the meeting that indicated that they supported the hold was OMB,” Hale said.

Cooper also noted the Pentagon and State Department had certified Ukraine had made progress on institutional reforms to weed out corruption that was a statutory precondition of the aid package being released.

She explained the aid is important to Ukraine because it helps the country defend itself against Russian aggression and negotiate with Russia from a position of strength. She said if the United States were to withdraw support from Ukraine, it would embolden Russia.

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