What Laura Cooper told impeachment investigators

What Laura Cooper told impeachment investigators

Investigators also released transcripts of Catherine Croft’s and Christopher Anderson’s testimony. Croft and Anderson served as top aides to Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations. Both officials had visibility into the hold on military aid — including the extent to which Ukrainian officials knew of the hold before it was reported by POLITICO on Aug. 28.

POLITICO scoured the depositions for the following new or illuminating nuggets:

Ukrainians may have been aware of hold on aid earlier than previously known

Trump abruptly withheld nearly $400 million in military aid sometime in early July, and word spread through the administration in subsequent weeks. Though several witnesses told lawmakers that Ukrainians likely didn’t discover the hold until late August — after a POLITICO report revealed it — Cooper said she began to register concerns days or weeks earlier.

Some, she said, arose from the defense industry that was awaiting the distribution of funds — including at least one call Cooper received from the Chamber of Commerce.

“So before the kind of press broke on it, we were hearing that there were signs of concern,” Cooper said.

But it was a conversation Cooper had with Volker that led her to believe Ukrainians also knew about the hold on aid before it was reported.

“I knew from my Kurt Volker conversation and also from sort of the alarm bells that were coming from Ambassador [William] Taylor and his team that there were Ukrainians who knew about this,” Cooper said.

Cooper said Volker relayed to her a discussion with a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about the Ukrainian leader making a statement alluding to “election interference” that Ukraine had committed in the past — a nod to Trump’s demand for such an investigation.

Volker said a ‘statement’ from the Ukrainians would release the aid

Cooper told investigators she met with Volker in August to discuss the hold on military aid. During that conversation, according to Cooper, Volker indicated the Ukrainians would not receive the critical military aid until they made a public statement committing to the investigations Trump sought.

“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 told investigators.

Cooper believed Volker, too, wanted the aid to be released, and she said Volker mentioned to her “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.”

Budget official told Cooper that Trump was concerned about ‘corruption’

Cooper told investigators that Michael Duffey, a senior official at the Office of Management and Budget who handles national security issues, said during a July 26 meeting that the president ordered the hold because of his “concerns about corruption.”

But Cooper also said an interagency review for corruption concerns had already been completed. During the review, Pentagon officials “affirmed that we believed sufficient progress has been made,” Cooper added.

“It was unanimous with the exception of the statements by OMB representatives, and those statements were relaying higher level guidance,” Cooper said, adding she never found out what Duffey meant by Trump’s “concerns about corruption.”

Duffey was subpoenaed by impeachment investigators, but, like other OMB officials, he refused to appear for testimony, depriving Democrats of potentially explosive information about the hold on military aid to Ukraine.

Legal questions emerged about holding aid

Cooper described an acute debate inside the Trump administration about whether Trump’s hold on aid would even pass legal muster.

“[S]enior leaders were expressing that they didn’t see how this was legally available,” she said, noting any abrupt decision to withhold military aid would likely require notifying Congress.

Cooper said she raised the matter at a meeting of some of the most senior members of the Trump administration on July 31 and indicated there were only two “legally available” ways for Trump to withhold aid. One was a presidential notice to Congress declaring a “rescission” of the funds. The other was a Pentagon decision to “reprogram” the funds, which also required congressional notification.

Cooper said she told budget officials at that meeting that the Pentagon may have to start issuing the aid on Aug. 6 to meet statutory deadlines to distribute the funding. There was rising concern that further delays could jeopardize the funding altogether when the fiscal year ended Sept. 30.

“And just practically speaking, how long could we delay obligation and still be able to obligate the entirety of the funding prior to Sept. 30th?” she said.

Croft: Two Ukrainians asked about hold on aid before POLITICO story

Croft told lawmakers that the number of people who knew about the president’s hold on Ukraine aid made it impossible to keep it secret, including from Ukrainians.

Rather, it was the Ukrainians who were interested in bottling up the news because it would be seen as “declining U.S. support for Ukraine.”

“As long as they thought that in the end the hold would be lifted, they had no reason for this to want to come out,” Croft said.

Croft added she recalled being approached by two Ukrainian Embassy officials about the hold prior to Aug. 28, when POLITICO reported on it.

Cooper was asked about the whistleblower

Steve Castor, one of the GOP lawyers working on the impeachment inquiry, grilled Cooper about her knowledge of the whistleblower complaint that set the inquiry into motion.

Cooper said she was unaware of the complaint before its existence was made public — but a series of follow-up questions about the whistleblower was redacted.

Democrats had complained during the depositions that Republicans were asking questions that could identify the whistleblower or the individuals he or she spoke with to gather the information contained within the complaint.

Anderson: Trump called Bolton at home to complain about CNN story

In one odd anecdote related by Anderson, he described an early-2019 conversation in which then-national security adviser John Bolton revealed Trump had called him at his home to complain about a CNN story that made it appear the Navy was pushing back against Russian aggression in the Black Sea.

“Ambassador Bolton relayed that he was called at home by the president, who complained about this news report,” Anderson told lawmakers.

Anderson described a sense of “Ukraine fatigue” emerging inside the administration that was evident when the Navy launched a routine “freedom-of-navigation” operation in the Black Sea. Anderson said officials notified the Turkish government, and when CNN reported on the move — portraying it as a response to Russia — the White House asked the Navy to cancel the maneuver.

“We met with Ambassador Bolton and discussed this, and he made it clear that the president had called him to complain about that news report. And that may have just been that he was surprised,” Anderson recalled. “We don’t — I can’t speculate as to why, but that, that operation was canceled, but then we were able to get a second one for later in February. And we had an Arleigh-class destroyer arrive in Odessa on the fifth anniversary of the Crimea invasion.”

There was another hold on lethal military aid to Ukraine

Croft revealed that a previously unknown hold was placed on a separate aspect of U.S. lethal military aid to Ukraine. She told investigators that OMB put a hold on a transfer of javelin missiles to Ukraine — and that Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, expressed concerns that “Russia would react negatively.”

She said OMB was the “lone objector” to transferring the missiles to Kyiv and that “all of the policy agencies,” including the State Department and the National Security Council, supported the transfer.

Croft added that, in her judgment, refusing to provide javelins to Ukraine would benefit Russia.

Democrats’ highlights of Laura Cooper’s testimony | Full transcript

Democrats’ highlights of Catherine Croft’s testimony | Full transcript

Democrats’ highlights of Christopher Anderson’s testimony | Full transcript

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