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.
Few people thought Laura Cooper would be a bombshell witnesses, but her timeline — that she says staffers alerted her to after her deposition transcript came out — means Ukrainians knew about aid situation on day of Trump-Zelensky call. Undercuts big GOP defense they didn't.
— Karoun Demirjian (@karoun) November 20, 2019
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.
— Susan Hennessey (@Susan_Hennessey) November 20, 2019
“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.
Laura Cooper testified that her whole military chain of command was advocating for a release of the hold on military aid to Ukraine. Yet Trump and OMB (Mulvaney) would not release the hold. Waiting and hoping they could squeeze the dirty political assistance out of Ukraine.
— Glenn Kirschner (@glennkirschner2) November 20, 2019
Laura Cooper is correcting her testimony about when the Ukrainians first asked about the hold on Ukrainian security assistance. She had testified she first heard from Ukraine about it Sept. 5. Her staff subsequently showed her emails from July 25 (!) showing Ukraine was asking.
— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) November 20, 2019
Turns out, the Ukrainians noticed a little thing like not getting the aid they desperately needed to survive a Russian invasion. https://t.co/csQZ825nLr
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) November 21, 2019
Why is what Cooper testifying important?
Because the Republicans have said for weeks: If the Ukrainians didn't know about the hold on the $$ during the July 25 call, then there was no quid pro quo.
— Kate Brannen (@K8brannen) November 20, 2019
Cooper’s revised testimony based on information from her staff shows the Ukrainians may have known muuuuch earlier about the hold on the security assistance. Like, July 25????
— Margaret L Taylor (@MargLTaylor) November 20, 2019
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]