After Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, offered damaging testimony about President Donald Trump and his top aides, two more witnesses testified Wednesday in the ongoing impeachment inquiry.
Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia and Ukraine, appeared alongside top State Department official David Hale to wrap up a marathon day that further eroded the GOP narrative around Trump's campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals.
It was Cooper who came armed with a startling new revelation.
Pentagon official provides evidence Ukrainians were aware of aid hold much earlier
Laura Cooper shared some startling information during her opening statement in Wednesday’s impeachment inquiry hearings: evidence that Ukrainian officials may have known about a hold on U.S. assistance well before news of it broke in late August.
The Pentagon official said that as early as July 25 — the same day President Donald Trump spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — her staffers received two emails indicating the Ukrainians were aware of the hold.
The revelations could undermine efforts by Republicans to paint Ukrainians as being ignorant of a hold on the aid, and thus arguing that they could not have felt pressure to conduct investigations of Trump’s political rivals as a result.
“My staff showed me two unclassified emails that they received from the State Department,” she said. “One was received on July 25th, at 2:31 P.M. That email said that the Ukrainian embassy and House Foreign Affairs Committee are asking about security assistance.”
She added: “The second email was received July 25th at 4:25 P.M. That email said the Hill knows about the [Foreign Military Financing] situation to an extent and so does the Ukrainian embassy.”
Cooper, who said she’d learned of these emails only after her private deposition, also added: “Sometime during the week of August 6-10, a Ukraine officer told a member of my staff a Ukrainian official might raise concerns about security assistance in an upcoming meeting.”
Democrats highlight administration’s refusal to hand over documents
Laura Cooper’s testimony about the new emails gave Democrats another chance to highlight one of their biggest frustrations: the Trump administration’s refusal to hand over documents related to the impeachment inquiry.
Cooper noted that she had been alerted to the emails by her staff after her private deposition.
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) pointed out that had the Pentagon listened to demands by the investigating committees to turn over records, that the information could have been known sooner.
“It points to a larger issue that the Defense Department and the State Department have refused to comply with a duly issued subpoena to provide this committee with documents that would further shed light on when precisely the Ukrainians” learned about the Ukraine military aid freeze, he said.
Both the State Department and the Pentagon are essentially following orders by the White House not to cooperate with the probe.
Senior State official agrees Yovanovitch was unfairly removed
David Hale, the top career diplomat at the State Department, acknowledged that Marie Yovanovitch was unfairly booted from her post in Ukraine after being prompted by Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.), marking one of the first public defenses from a top-level department employee of the former ambassador to Ukraine.
Public support for Yovanovitch has been hard to come by from top State Department officials, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has not been willing to defend the longtime diplomat in public.
After being asked to read a letter outlining how the department would support employees entangled in the impeachment inquiry, Hale was asked whether he was saying that Yovanovitch “is a dedicated and courageous patriot.”
“I endorse what you say exactly,” Hale responded.
“And that she served with grace and dignity in the face of the smear campaign?” Heck continued, to which Hale replied, “Yes, she did.”
Hale sidestepped a follow-up about whether he agreed that what happened to her was wrong, responding that “I believe that she should have been able to stay at post and continued to do the outstanding work she was doing.”
But pressed by Heck again, Hale replied “that’s right” to the query.
“Thank you for clarifying the record, because I wasn’t sure where it was that she could go to set the record straight if it wasn’t you, sir, or where she could go back to get her name and reputation back if it wasn’t you, sir,” Heck shot back, adding that rank-and-file State Department staffers “need to know that you, as the highest-ranking professional diplomat in the entire State Department have their back, sir.”
Nunes gets creative in labeling proceedings
A “circus.” An “inquisition.” “Storytime.”
Rep. Devin Nunes of California has gotten more than a little creative in describing the impeachment inquiry so far.
From the start, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee has denigrated the proceedings as rigged and unfair to the GOP.
He’s described the earlier private proceedings as being conducted in a “cultlike” atmosphere.
He’s accused Democrats of adding “magic” minutes to some of the questioning time. He’s insisted that Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the committee’s chairman, is bending the rules.
At the end of Nunes’ closing remarks on Wednesday — dotted with references to the Middle Ages — Schiff drew laughs when he said: “I thank the gentleman, as always, for his remarks.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled Denny Heck’s name.