Pentagon official: Trump ordered Ukraine aid freeze despite legal concerns

Nov. 11 (UPI) — President Donald Trump directed the U.S. government to freeze aid to Ukraine over the summer, Laura Cooper, the top Defense official who oversees Ukraine policy, told the House impeachment inquiry, according to a transcript released Monday.

When she learned of the hold, Cooper asked if Trump could authorize it considering the money had been approved by Congress. She recalled a meeting in July in which serious concerns were raised among many in the administration that the president lacked the authority to freeze aid.

“So 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 said in the testimony. “And at that meeting the deputies agreed to look into the legalities and to look at what was possible.”

House Democrats are pursuing impeachment against Trump for allegedly using nearly $400 million in military aid as leverage to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his potential political opponent next November.

Cooper’s testimony on Oct. 23 was famously interruptedby dozens of Republicans who stormed into the closed-door meeting in the basement of the capitol in protest to being excluded from the meeting.

Democrats said at the time that Republicans who were on the oversight, intelligence and foreign affairs committees were allowed to attend the hearings. Cooper’s testimony started four or five hours late.

The testimony appears to collaborate with statements made by others in the month-long inquiry. Cooper described Trump’s decision to hold the military aid as “unusual” considering the country was at war with Russia.

“I got, you know, I got a readout from the meeting — there was discussion in the session about the — about OMB [Office of Management and Budget] saying that they were holding the Congressional Notification related to” Ukraine, Cooper testified.

She also testified that there were two legal mechanisms Trump could use to stop assistance, but both required notifying Congress. Cooper said that did not occur.

Trump maintains that he did nothing wrong and has called the inquiry toward possible impeachment a hoax. Trump administration officials have defended the actions, saying they had genuine concerns about corruption in Ukraine that prompted them to consider holding the aid.

But senior national security leaders were unified in their view that the aid was essential and that they could “work with the government of Ukraine to tackle corruption and they were going to find ways to engage the president on this,” Cooper said.

Democrats also released the transcripts from joint depositions with Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson, two former assistants to former U.S. Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker.

Over the weekend, House intelligence committee ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., requested his own list of people he’d like to have deposed for the impeachment inquiry, including Biden’s son, Hunter, and the whistle-blower who first raised the alarm about Ukraine.

House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff called the testimony request for Biden and the whistle-blower redundant. Schiff said the inquiry has an “ever-growing body of evidence — from witnesses and documents, including the president’s own words in his July 25 call record — that not only confirms but far exceeds the initial information in the whistle-blower’s complaint.”

“The whistle-blower’s testimony is therefore redundant and unnecessary,” Schiff said. “In light of the president’s threats, the individual’s appearance before us would only place their personal safety at grave risk.”