Following Gordon Sondland’s morning and afternoon testimony in which he confirmed the existence of a quid pro quo with Ukraine, the evening session of the impeachment hearings into President Donald Trump began with another explosive revelation.
Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia and Ukraine, testified Wednesday that as early as July 25 – the same day Trump had the phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that sparked a whistleblower complaint and the impeachment inquiry — the Ukrainian embassy specifically asking her staff “what’s going on” with the congressionally appropriated military aid. Cooper also testified that officials at the Ukrainian embassy in Washington, D.C. had reached out to the State Department inquiring about the military assistance. This is roughly one month before a Aug. 28/29 story in Politico reported for the first time that the aid was held up.
Additionally, Cooper testified that regardless of the reason the Trump administration held back the aid to Ukraine, the simple act of withholding the funds without first getting Congressional approval is against the law, specifically, the Impoundment Control Act of 1974 (ICA). The ICA precludes the president or other government officials from impounding, either permanently or temporarily, federal funds that Congress has designated to be spent for a specific purpose.
Former NSA attorney and legal analyst Susan Hennessey explained why the law actually undercuts the GOP’s contention that Ukrainian aid was held back due to concerns about corruption in the country.
“[Rep. John] Ratcliffe’s line of questioning is supposed to suggest that Trump was legitimately concerned about corruption. But these funds were not Trump’s to hand out as he wished. It was congressionally appropriated money, subject to certifications which had been completed and affirmed,” Hennessey commented, adding, “There are mechanisms for the executive branch to withhold or reprogram aid, but it requires congressional notification and permission.”
According to Hennessey, impeachment inquiry testimony has successfully dismantled Republicans’ defenses of the president.
“These hearings have produced testimony that has systematically eliminated the Republican defenses of Trump, one by one,” she remarked.
Other legal observers also commented on the upshot of Cooper’s testimony.
Tom Nichols, a National Security Affairs professor at the U.S. Naval War College, also weighed in on why administration’s corruption concerns weren’t a valid reason for withholding aid in the way that they did.
“[I]t’s normal to hold up aid if the country getting the aid has not been certified (usually by an interagency group in the Exec branch) that it has met conditions in U.S. law. What Trump did is hold it back for his personal gain. Illegal,” he said.
[image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]
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