A Pentagon official's newly released testimony further devastated Trump's central impeachment defense that Ukraine aid freeze wasn't linked to search for Biden dirt

Laura CooperLaura Cooper, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, arrives on Capitol Hill before attending a closed-door deposition, on October 30, 2019 in Washington, DC.Mark Wilson/Getty Images

  • Pentagon official Laura Cooper testified to Congress that President Donald Trump ordered that aid to Ukraine be frozen, according to transcripts released Monday. 
  • Trump has denied that he abused his office in seeking for Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, a domestic political rival, or in freezing aid to Ukraine. 
  • Cooper told lawmakers that in conversations with officials, it emerged that Ukraine knew about the aid freeze, strengthening the argument that it was being deployed as leverage. 
  • She also claimed that in a conversation with Kurt Volker, former US Special Envoy to Ukraine, he said that aid would be reinstated in Ukraine announced the probes Trump sought. 
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In transcripts of her testimony to the House impeachment probe released Monday, Laura Cooper, a senior Pentagon official responsible for Ukraine, provided evidence that further damaged President Donald Trump's central impeachment defense. 

Trump maintains that his request for Ukraine to announce a criminal investigation into Joe Biden, the former vice president and Democratic presidential contender, and his decision to freeze military aid to Ukraine were not linked, that there was no "quid pro quo" sought with Ukraine, or favor sought in return for aid. 

Cooper, in her role as the Deputy Assistant secretary of Defense for Russia and Ukraine, was able to describe the chain of events that saw nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine frozen over the summer, and the alarms this raised among senior officials. 

She told the three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry into Trump in her testimony on October 23 that the president's planned freeze on Ukraine aid was confirmed by Mick Mulvaney, the president's acting chief of staff. 

 

She told lawmakers that in a July 23 meeting she attended, the Office of Management and Budget informed agencies that  "the White House chief of staff has conveyed that the president has concerns about Ukraine and Ukraine security assistance."

Two days later, the phone call that sparked a whistleblower complaint and the impeachment probe took place.

During the call, Trump requested that Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky launch a criminal investigation into his political rival, Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. 

No credible evidence has emerged to substantiate Trump's assertion that Biden abused his then office as vice president to quash a Ukrainian corruption probe into Burisma, an energy firm where his son, Hunter, served on the board. 

Central to the investigation by Democrats is the allegation that Trump deliberately withheld the aid in order to get Ukraine to buckle to his demand for a Biden probe.

Joe BidenDemocratic presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden addresses a crowd at a town hall event at Clinton College on August 29, 2019 in Rock Hill, South Carolina.Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Trump and his Republican allies have denied that Trump abused his power in seeking to get Ukraine to announce a criminal probe into Biden, or that the request was linked to his decision to freeze Ukraine aid. 

Trump in September told reporters that he froze Ukraine aid before his call with Zelensky to encourage the country to take measures to combat corruption. 

In her testimony, Cooper said the aid freeze was confirmed in a July 26 meeting - and that both military and humanitarian aid had been held back. 

"Immediately deputies began to raise concerns about how this could be done in a legal fashion," Cooper said. "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."

Cooper's testimony undermines several key parts of the impeachment defense of Trump and his allies. 

Trump has insisted that no "quid pro quo" deal - or offer in which military aid was made conditional on a Biden probe, or probe into a conspiracy theory alleging Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election - was ever made.

He further claims that freezing aid could not have been part of a bid to broker a "quid pro quo" because Ukraine knew nothing about the aid being frozen. 

Kurt VolkerKIEV, UKRAINE - 2019/07/27: Kurt Volker, US Department Special Representative for Ukraine speaks during a press conference about US-Ukrainian relations in Kiev. The US delegation headed by the Special Representative of the United States Department of State for Ukraine, Kurt Volker on a working visit to the village of Stanytsia Luhanska in Luhansk region East of Ukraine.Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

But Cooper testified that in a conversation with Kurt Volker, the former US Special Envoy to Ukraine, and acting Ukraine ambassador Bill Taylor, it became clear that Ukraine did know about the aid freeze. 

"I knew from my Kurt Volker conversation and also from sort of the alarm bells that were coming from Ambassador Taylor and his team that there were Ukrainians who knew about this," she testified, according to the transcript. 

She also recalled a conversation with Volker on August 20, in which the subject of the aid freeze was raised, and that Volker said that a Ukrainian announcement along the lines requested by Trump could see it lifted. 

"So in that meeting he did mention something to me that, you know, was the first about somehow 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.

"And that was about as specific as it got," she said.

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