- The Washington Times - Monday, November 11, 2019

House Democrats on Monday released a transcript of a closed-door interview with a Pentagon official who said concerns were raised about the legality of President Trump withholding military aid from Ukraine.

Laura K. Cooper, the Defense Department deputy assistant secretary for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, said White House moves to block $391 million in aid because of corruption concerns raised red flags.

“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,” she said. “And at that meeting, the deputies agreed to look into the legalities and to look at what was possible.”

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Her testimony, the latest in a series of transcripts released by the Democrats running the impeachment inquiry, built on the case that Mr. Trump abused his power by prodding Kyiv to investigate political rival Joseph R. Biden and his son Hunter, as well as investigate Ukraine interference in the U.S. 2016 presidential election.

Ms. Cooper never mentioned Mr. Biden or his son in her testimony. She told the inquiry that the reason the administration withheld the aid remained a mystery to her.

“We did not get clarification,” she said.

“We called around to [the National Security Council], to State. Those are our usual colleagues.”

Much of Ms. Cooper’s testimony focused on what she saw as the vital national security interest of delivering the military aid to Ukraine for its ongoing clash with Russia.

However, she said her superiors at the Pentagon and officials at the White House Office of Management and Budget did not explain why the aid was held back.

It wasn’t until August, after Mr. Trump’s now-infamous July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, that then-U.S. Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker described a pressure campaign.

“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. And that was about as specific as it got,” she told the inquiry.

Democrats also released testimonies from Department of State officials Christopher Anderson and Catherine Croft.

Mr. Anderson told lawmakers that officials in the White House and the State Department were worried that the focus by Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, on specific investigations would undermine U.S. anti-corruption efforts.

“We have specific deliverables on anticorruption that we had developed. Individual investigations were not part of that policy that I was aware of,” he said.

Ms. Croft, meanwhile, told lawmakers that while she served at the National Security Council, lobbyist Robert Livingston repeatedly pressed for then-Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch to be fired, calling her an “Obama holdover.”

Ms. Yovanovitch’s abrupt ouster amid a swirl of false allegations against her has become a key part of the impeachment inquiry as Democrats look to establish a Trump administration effort to undermine typical foreign policy procedures.

The committees running the inquiry — Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform — have been releasing the transcripts ahead of the first public hearing on impeachment scheduled for Wednesday.

The impeachment case against Mr. Trump hinges on accusations, first lodged by the whistleblower, that he pressured Mr. Zelensky in a July 25 phone call to investigate the Bidens and 2016 election interference.

Democrats argue that Mr. Trump made U.S. military aid conditional upon Mr. Zelensky’s announcement of the investigations, which they describe as the quid pro quo of the president’s self-serving deal.

Although the military aid was put on hold for a short time, it was delivered and there is no evidence that the Ukrainians began any investigations into the Bidens.

Mr. Zelensky has said he did not feel he was being pressured or coerced on the phone call, a transcript of which the White House has released.

The public hearings Wednesday will feature State Department officials William Taylor and George Kent, who in their closed-door interviews said they were concerned that Mr. Trump’s policy in Ukraine crossed the line from diplomacy to election politics.

The impeachment panel is scheduled to hear testimony Friday from Ms. Yovanovitch.

⦁ Gabriella Muñoz contributed to this report.

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