WASHINGTON – The committees overseeing the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump released three testimonies Monday as they continue their investigation into whether Trump withheld security assistance to Ukraine to pressure the country to dig up dirt on Democratic rival Joe Biden, the former Vice President, and his son, Hunter.
Laura Cooper, a Defense Department official who serves as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, testified that she and other Pentagon officials had answered questions about Ukraine assistance in June and were surprised when told that a hold had been placed on the funds after an interagency meeting in July, calling it “unusual.”
During a discussion about security assistance at a July 23 meeting, Cooper testified “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,” referring to Mick Mulvaney.
Cooper told lawmakers that just a few days later during a meeting with top deputies on July 26, the day after Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, it became clear the aid was being withheld as “it relates to the President’s concerns about corruption.”
She stated that the deputies began “to raise concerns about how this could legally play out” and “how this could be done in a legal fashion.”
Cooper told House investigators the Pentagon was concerned about the message it would send to Russia by holding up security assistance funds to Ukraine.
Ukraine is trying to negotiate peace with Russia, she said, “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.”
That, she said, would weaken a “strategic partner” of the U.S.
Cooper also described an interaction with Kurt Volker, who served as the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, where he suggested the hold on security aid could be lifted if the Ukrainians issued a statement on the sought-after investigations, recalling that he discussed an “effort that he was engaged in to see if there was a statement that the government of Ukraine would make that would somehow disavow any interference in U.S. elections and would commit to the prosecution of any individuals involved in election interference.”
She also stated that she knew from a conversation with Volker and 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’s testimony was delayed for five hours because Republicans who weren’t members of the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight and Reform committees sought to attend, causing a chaotic scene as they pushed through the confines of the Capitol complex basement, to make their way into the secure room.
‘Trepidatious’ Croft feared Trump would politicize Ukraine policy
The committee also heard from Catherine Croft, a state department official that worked on Ukraine issues, who told House investigators that she was “trepidatious” about becoming a special assistant for Ukraine negotiations, partly because she feared the Trump administration would politicize its policy toward Ukraine.
Croft said she already had seen several news articles detailing criticism of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and Rudy Giuliani’s,the President’s personal lawyer, efforts to pressure Ukraine to reopen an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
“I was watching those narratives play out in the media, and I thought it was possible that the Trump administration would choose to change its policy to suit domestic politics,” she said.
After Yovanovitch was abruptly withdrawn from the post, Croft said she sat down with Bill Taylor, who was tapped to temporarily replace Yovanovitch and offered her “very frank assessment” about Trump’s policy on Ukraine.
Croft said she told Taylor that U.S. policy toward Ukraine was unlikely to change unless Trump feared that Biden “was going to be a credible rival for him in the upcoming election.”
Anderson was warned by Bolton that ‘Giuliani was a key voice with the President on Ukraine’
Christopher Anderson, who worked as a deputy to Volker, testified to lawmakers that on June 13, former National Security Advisor John Bolton warned him “that Mr. Giuliani was a key voice with the President on Ukraine.”
“To the best of my recollection, he made a joke about every time Ukraine is mentioned, Giuliani pops up and that the President was listening to Giuliani about Ukraine,” Anderson elaborated about Bolton’s comments.
Anderson told lawmakers that he sent a message to Assistant Secretary George Kent “summarizing the meeting and relaying NSA Bolton’s message about Mr. Giuliani.”
During a follow-up meeting hosted by Secretary of Energy Rick Perry a few days later, Anderson notes there were “vague discussions” regarding how “to address Mr. Giuliani’s continued calls for a corruption investigation.”
Following the meeting, he and Taylor discussed the “importance of not calling for any specifics investigations.”
Anderson also told lawmakers that in “late spring” he had a conversation with Volker regarding Giuliani, where Volker said he “had been in touch” with Giuliani. Volker elaborated “that he did not think this issue was going away” and that “we’d have to do something to change the narrative.”
This story is breaking and will be updated.
Contributing: Christal Hayes, Nicholas Wu and Bart Jansen.