(CNN) — A top Pentagon official testified Wednesday that Ukrainian officials knew as early as July 25 that there was an issue with US aid to the country, undercutting a key Republican rebuttal to accusations of a “quid pro quo” linking the aid to investigations into President Donald Trump’s political rivals.
In their defense of Trump, Republicans have alleged that no bribery could exist if the Ukrainians weren’t aware the aid was being held.
But Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, testified as part of the House impeachment inquiry that some members of her staff recalled receiving emails from the Ukrainian embassy on July 25 — the same day as Trump’s much-scrutinized phone call with the Ukrainian president.
“What was going on with Ukrainian security assistance?” one Ukrainian contact emailed a member of her staff, Cooper said.
Wednesday’s second public hearing paired Cooper with David Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, for what was expected to be a technical exploration of how the aid was held up and how US policy in Ukraine was hijacked by the President’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
After explosive morning testimony directly linking Trump to an alleged “quid pro quo” in Ukraine, two government officials were telling lawmakers what they knew about the “quo” — US security assistance — as well as the circumstances surrounding its holdup.
In an opening statement, Cooper described her understanding of why the hundreds of millions of dollars was being held up.
“I heard that the President had directed the Office of Management and Budget to hold the funds because of his concerns about corruption in Ukraine,” she said.
In her closed deposition last month — which was delayed for several hours as some House Republicans attempted to storm the secure hearing room — Cooper told the impeachment committees she came to had learned over the summer that US assistance to Ukraine was being held up for reasons that weren’t entirely clear.
Cooper helped orchestrate US strategy for bolstering Ukraine’s military, a bulwark against Russia. She played a coordinating role in managing the financial and military assistance Congress approved — and participated in meetings when the aid was held.
She testified that some fellow officials had raised questions about whether the hold was legal.
Hale, her partner in Wednesday’s hearing, will offer more details about the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch, the onetime US ambassador to Ukraine. The number-three official at the State Department, he testified privately earlier this month that he had advocated for Yovanovitch as Giuliani was orchestrating a smear campaign against her. But ultimately he did not push for a public statement of support.
A number of State Department officials have testified so far in the public hearings, but Hale is the most senior. A career foreign service officer, he told lawmakers during his earlier deposition that the judgment from senior State Department officials was that a statement supporting Yovanovitch would only worsen the situation.
“It would be better for everyone, including the ambassador, to try to just move past this,” he said.