Pentagon official says Ukrainians asked about aid the same day Trump spoke to Zelensky

Jon Ward
Senior Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON — A senior Pentagon official told the congressional impeachment inquiry that Ukrainian officials inquired about the delay in U.S. military assistance to their country on the same day President Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden.

A Ukrainian official serving in the U.S. asked the Pentagon on July 25 “what is going on” with nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine, according to Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia.

“And did that connote to you that they were concerned that something was in fact going on with it?” asked House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who is leading the inquiry. 

“Yes sir,” Cooper responded.

Cooper was testifying in the fourth day of public hearings Wednesday, alongside David Hale, undersecretary of state for political affairs, the third-ranking official at the State Department.

The timing is significant because Trump pressured the Ukrainians to conduct an investigation of Biden, holding out a potential White House meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as leverage, Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, told the House Intelligence Committee earlier Wednesday.

Laura Cooper testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

The committee is also investigating allegations that Trump withheld the military assistance to further pressure the Ukrainians, who have been fighting a Russian invasion of their country for five years. Trump was seeking a public announcement by Zelensky that his country was opening an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter, who had business dealings in the country.

Republicans have said that Trump could not have been engaging in a quid pro quo, because by their reckoning Ukraine didn’t even realize the aid had been held back until much later in the summer. 

The money was released on Sept. 11, two days after it became known that Congress had received a complaint from a whistleblower about Trump’s July 25 phone call.

But Cooper’s statement that Ukraine was inquiring as early as July 25 undercuts the GOP talking point. She said she could not be certain that the inquiry indicated knowledge of the hold, but added that Ukrainians “typically would call about specific things, not just generally checking in on their assistance package.”

Cooper also testified that by May, Ukraine had met benchmarks showing that it had made “institutional reforms” to combat corruption. Republicans have raised the defense that Trump withheld the aid because he was concerned about corruption in Ukraine and was waiting for proof that Zelensky, who was elected president April 21 and took office on May 20, was doing enough to fight it.

But Cooper’s testimony undercut that assertion as well.

Republicans tried to cast doubt on how meaningful the Pentagon’s benchmarks were. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said the verification of reform was aimed only at the defense sector.

“None of us would argue that fixes corruption throughout the country,” Conaway said. 

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