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THE SITUATION ROOM
Pentagon Official Laura Cooper Gives Opening Statement at Impeachment Hearing; Cooper: Ukraine Asked About Military Aid on July 25th. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired November 20, 2019 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LAURA COOPER, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN, AND EURASIAN AFFAIRS: -- my recollection of the timeline in which these events played out. I testified about all of this at length in my deposition. In July, I became aware of a hold being placed and an obligation of the State Department's foreign military financing or FMF, and DOD USAI funds. In a series of inter agency meetings, I heard that the president had directed the Office of Management and Budget to hold the funds because of his concern about corruption in Ukraine. Let me say at the outset that I have never discussed this or any other matter with the president. I never heard directly from him about this matter.
At a senior level meeting, I attended an July 26 shared, by Security Council leadership as at all inter agency meetings on this topic of which I was aware, the national security community expressed unanimous support for resuming the funding as in the U.S. national security interests. At the July 26th meeting, there was also a discussion of how Ukrainian anticorruption efforts were making progress. DOD reiterated what we said in our earlier certification to Congress, stating that sufficient progress in defense reform including anti- corruption had occurred to justify the USAI spending. I and others in the interagency meeting felts that the matter was particularly urgent because a takes time to obligate that amount of money, and I understanding was that the money was legally required to be (ph) by September 30th at the end of the fiscal year.
In the ensuing weeks until the hold was released on September 11th, I pursued three tracks. First, starting on July 31st and the interagency meeting I made cleared to the interagency leadership that my understanding that once DOD reaches the point at which it does not have sufficient time to obligate all of the funding by the end of the fiscal year, there were only two ways to discontinue obligation of USAI, a president directed decision or a DOD directed reprogramming action, wither of which would need to be notified to Congress. I never heard that either was being pursued.
Second, I was in the in communication with the DOD security assistant implementing committee to try to understand exactly when they would reach the point at which they would be unable to have the funds by the end of the fiscal year. I received a series of updates and in a September 5th update, I and other senior Defense Department leaders were informed that over 100 million cannot be obligated by September 30th. And third, those advocating for the meeting of the cabinet mid level principles with the president to explain why the assistance should go forward. Although I heard of attempts to discuss the issue with the president, I never received details about any conversations other than a status update at the hold had not been lifted.
After the decision to release the funds on September 11th of this year, my colleagues across the DOD security assistance enterprise worked tirelessly to ultimately obligate about 86 percent of the funding by the end of the fiscal year, more than they originally estimated they would be able to. Due to a provision in the continuing resolution appropriating an amount equal to the obligated funds from the fiscal year 2019, we ultimate will be to obligate the USAI funds. Given how critical these funds are for bolstering Ukraine security and deterring Russia, I appreciate this congressional action.
That concludes my opening statement, but before answering your questions there is one other matter I would like to address. I testified in a deposition before committee on October 23, 2019. At that time, I was asked questions about what I knew about when the Ukrainian government may have learned about any hold on security assistance funds.
I answered those questions based on my knowledge at that time. Since my deposition I have again reviewed my calendar and the only meeting where I recall a Ukrainian official raising the issue with me is on September 5th at the Ukrainian Independence Day celebration.
I have, however, since learned some additional information about this subject from my staff. Prior to my deposition testimony, I avoided discussing my testimony with members of my staff or anyone other than my attorney to insure that my deposition testimony was based only on my personal knowledge.
[18:05:00] My deposition testimony was publicly released on November 11, 2019. Members of my staff read the testimony and have come to me since then and provided additional information. Specifically on the issue of Ukraine's knowledge of the hold or of Ukraine asking questions about possible issues with the flow of assistance, my staff showed me two unclassified emails that they received from the State Department.
One was received on July 25th at 2:31 PM. That email said that the Ukrainian embassy and House Foreign Affairs Committee are asking about security assistance. The second email was received on July 25th at 4:25 PM. That email said that the Hill knows about the FMF situation to an extent and so does the Ukrainian embassy.
I did not receive either of these emails, my staff does not recall informing me about them, and I do not recall being made aware of their content at the time. I do not have any additional information about precisely what the Ukrainians may have said, what may have been their source of information about a hold or any possible issues with the flow of assistance or what the State Department officials may have told them. My staff also advised me in the last few days of the following additional facts that may be relevant to this inquiry. Again, my staff does not recall informing me about them and I do not recall being made aware of this.
On July 3rd at 4:23 PM they received an email from the State Department stating that they had heard that the CN is currently being blocked by OMB. This apparently refers to the congressional notification State would send for Ukraine FMF.
I have no further information on this. On July 25th a member of my staff got a question from a Ukraine embassy contact asking what was going on with Ukraine security assistance.
Because at that time we did not know what the guidance was on USAI, the OMB notice of apportionment arrived that day but the staff member did not find out about it until later. I was informed that the staff member told the Ukrainian official that we were moving forward on USAI but recommended the Ukraine embassy check in with state regarding the FMF.
Sometime during the week of August 6 to 10, a Ukraine embassy officer told a member of my staff that a Ukrainian official might raise concerns about security assistance in an upcoming meeting. My understanding is that the issue was not, in fact, raised.
Again, I have no further information about what concerns about the security assistance Ukraine may have had at that time. My staff also recall thinking that Ukrainians were aware of the hold on security assistance during August but they cannot pinpoint any specific conversations where it came up.
My staff told me they're aware of additional meetings where they saw officials from the Ukrainian embassy in August and they believe that the question of the hold came up at some point. But they told me they did not find any corresponding email or other records of those meetings.
Consequently, either they nor I know precisely when or what additional discussions may have occurred with the Ukrainians in the month of August. If I had more details on these matters I would offer them to the committee.
But this is the extent of additional information I have received since my deposition. Mr. Chairman, I welcome your questions. I will answer them to the best of my ability. Thank you.
SCHIFF: Thank you for your testimony. For this hearing, we will forgo the first round of questions by committee council and immediately proceed to member questions under the five minute rule.
I do want to respond to the comments of my Ranking Member, however, that I think suggested that this was a surprise to the minority. We informed the minority last night after our hearing that we would, because of the nature of testimony today, we did not believe that a staff member round was necessary. And the message we got back from the minority was, OK, got it. Thanks for the heads up. So the minority was on notice. It raised no objection about going directly to member rounds. I also want to point out that the minority has represented that we have not called any minority witnesses. That is not accurate.
Mr. Hale appears tonight as a minority witness. I know that's not how you characterize yourself, Mr. Hale. But your testimony was requested by the minority. Likewise, two of the witnesses yesterday; Ambassador Volker as well as Mr. Morrison were both minority requested witnesses.
Now, Mr. Volker -- Ambassador Volker testified that he didn't believe any of the allegations against Joe Biden. And in retrospect that he should have understood that investigation into Burisma was really investigation into Biden, which he acknowledged would be inappropriate.
[18:10:00] And Mr. Morrison gave testimony as to conversations that he had with investor Sondland about the conversations that he had relayed to the Ukrainians about the hold in security assistance being a result of the failure to secure the investigation.
So I can understand why the minority does not want to now characterize them as minority requested witnesses but none the less, they were minority requested witnesses. I now recognize myself for five minutes.
And I want to begin by asking you, Ms. Cooper, about what you just informed us of and make sure that I understand the important of what you're saying.
As early as July 25th, the same day President Trump spoke with President Zelensky on the phone and asked for this favor, the same day that President Zelensky thanked the United States for its military support and signaled it was ready to purchase more javelins on that date, you got inquiries -- your staff got inquires from someone at the Ukrainian embassy who was concerned about the status of the military assistance. Is that correct?
COOPER: Sir, that's correct. I would say that specifically the Ukrainian embassy staff asked what is going on with Ukrainian security assistance.
SCHIFF: And did that connote to you that they were concerned that something was in fact going on with it?
COOPER: Yes, sir.
SCHIFF: And you received -- I guess your staff received more than one inquiry on that date. What was the other -- the nature of the other inquiry on July 25th?
COOPER: Sir, the -- that was the one inquiry to my staff. But the other points that I had raised were emails reflecting outreach to the State Department. SCHIFF: So the Ukraine embassy was also contacting the State Department to find out about its portion of military assistance? COOPER: Yes, sir.
SCHIFF: And was that, similarly, a concern about what's going on with our military aid?
COOPER: It was similarly a question about what -- what's going on with security assistance.
SCHIFF: And your staff or one of the other Department staff also heard in August additional inquiries from the Ukraine embassy about a potential holdup in the military assistance?
COOPER: Sir, I want to be careful about how I phrase this. My staff recall having had meetings with Ukrainian embassy representatives during the month of August. And they believe that the topic came up at some point during those meetings, but they don't recall the precise date or, specifically what the -- the nature of the discussion was.
SCHIFF: But your staff at least gleaned from those conversations that the Ukrainian embassy was aware that there was some kind of a hold on the assistance?
COOPER: Sir, the way I would phrase it is that there was some kind of an issue, yes.
SCHIFF: You are now, Ms. Cooper, the third witness before our committee who has testified that the Ukrainians found out about the problem or a hold on the security assistance prior to it becoming public. But you're the first to indicate that that may go back as early as the date of the president's call with President Zelensky.
Let me move to a related issue. In August, you testified at your deposition that you met with Kurt Volker. I believe it was on August 20th. The hold on security assistance was still in place. You testified that Ambassador Volker told you if he could get Zelensky to make a public statement, quote, "that would somehow disavow any interference in U.S. elections and would commit to the prosecution of any individuals involved in election interference."
It might lift the hold on security assistance, is that correct?
COOPER: Sir, I believed that I testified that it was my inference that that would lift the hold on Ukraine's security assistance.
SCHIFF: And that was your inference because, at the time, you were talking about the hold on security assistance?
COOPER: That's correct. The first part of our conversation was about the hold on security assistance.
SCHIFF: And it was during that portion of the conversation that he brought up the effort to get this public statement?
COOPER: It was during that conversation, I'm not sure I would say it's during that part of the conversation.
SCHIFF: What else did you discuss in the conversation?
COOPER: The only two topics that I recall are the urgency of lifting the -- the hold on security assistance and then him relaying this separate diplomatic effort that I had previously been unaware of.
SCHIFF: So you didn't have any discussion about any White House meeting?
[18:15:00] COOPER: Sir, I don't recall specifically talking about the White House meeting. But we -- I've had many conversations about the desire for the White House meeting. So it's likely that that was a part of the conversation.
SCHIFF: But the two things you do recall are that you talked about the hold on security assistance and that he brought up this public statement that they wanted to Zelensky to get, that he thought might be useful?
COOPER: That is correct, sir.
SCHIFF: Mr. Nunes?
NUNES: I yield to Mr. Ratcliffe.
RATCLIFFE: I thank the gentleman for yielding.
Ambassador Hale and Ms. Cooper, I thank you both for being here. In his opening, Ranking Member Nunes referenced President Trump's general skepticism of providing aid and the amount of foreign aid being provided to foreign countries. Would you agree with that characterization, Ambassador Hale?
HALE: We've often heard at the State Department that the president of the United States wants to make sure that foreign assistance is reviewed scrupulously to make sure that's in -- truly in U.S. national interests. And that we evaluate it continuously so that it meets certain criteria that the president's established.
RATCLIFFE: And since his election, is it fair to say that President Trump has looked to overhaul how foreign aid is distributed?
HALE: Yes. The NSC launched a foreign assistance review process some time -- I think it was late August or early September 2018.
RATCLIFFE: All right. And throughout both his campaign and his administration, President Trump has repeatedly sought to reframe -- reframe American foreign policy in economic terms and, as he described, America First policy.
And consistent with that, well before there was a whistleblower talking about a pause on aid to the Ukraine, the president had expressed genuine concern about providing U.S. foreign assistance. To that point, is it fair to say that the president has wanted to ensure that American taxpayer money was being effectively and efficiently spent outside of the United States?
HALE: Yes, that is the broad intent of the foreign assistance review, among other goals.
RATCLIFFE: And has the president expressed that he expects our allies to give their fare share of foreign aid, as evidenced by a point that he raised during the July 25th phone call with President Zelensky to that effect?
HALE: The principle of greater burden sharing by allies other likeminded states is an important element of the foreign assistance review.
RATCLIFFE: Is it fair to say that, in the Trump administration, U.S. aid is withheld from foreign countries for a number of factors?
RATCLIFFE: And you've testified in your prior testimony that it is normal to have delays on aid?
HALE: I may have said it that way, but -- it is certainly an occurrence. It does occur.
RATCLIFFE: In the past year, Ukraine was not the only country to have aid withheld from it. Is that correct?
RATCLIFFE: In the past year, was aid held -- withheld from Pakistan?
HALE: Yes, sir.
RATCLIFFE: Why was aid withheld from Pakistan?
HALE: Because of unhappiness over the policies and behavior of the Pakistani government toward certain proxy groups that were involved in conflicts with the United States.
RATCLIFFE: And in the past year, was aid also withheld from Honduras?
HALE: Aid was withheld from the three states in central -- northern Central America, yes.
RATCLIFFE: In the past year, was aid withheld from Lebanon?
HALE: Yes, sir.
RATCLIFFE: And when aid was first held -- withheld from -- from Lebanon, were you given a reason why it was withheld?
RATCLIFFE: So having no explanation for why aid is being withheld is not uncommon?
HALE: I would say it -- it is not the normal way that we function.
RATCLIFFE: But it does happen? HALE: It does happen.
RATCLIFFE: And is it true that when aid was being withheld from Lebanon that was at the same time that aid was being withheld from Ukraine?
HALE: Correct, sir.
RATCLIFFE: And you've testified that the aid to Lebanon still hasn't been released. Is that right?
HALE: That is correct.
RATCLIFFE: All right. But the aid to Ukraine was released on September 11th, correct?
HALE: I read that, yes.
RATCLIFFE: So it's fair to say that aid has been withheld from several countries across the globe for various reasons, and, in some cases, for reasons that are still unknown just in the past year?
HALE: Correct, sir.
RATCLIFFE: So the assertion's been made that President Trump's Ukraine policy changed when there was a pause in the -- the aid -- or the aid was withheld. Is that an accurate statement?
HALE: That was not the way I understood things to be happening at the time. We were not given an explanation.
RATCLIFFE: And in terms of our policy, in terms of aid to Ukraine, you have described it as very robust.
HALE: Our aid to Ukraine?
RATCLIFFE: As evidenced by President Trump's policy decision to provide lethal defensive weapons, Javelin missiles.
HALE: It was very robust. Yes, sir.
[18:20:00] RATCLIFFE: And that was a decision that President Trump made that president -- the prior administration, President Obama, had not done. Lethal weapons had not been provided to Ukraine in the Obama administration, correct?
HALE: I was not involved in Ukrainian affairs during the Obama administration, so I don't feel competent to address that.
RATCLIFFE: And when aid to Ukraine was put on pause, I believe you've testified that there may have been concern by Secretary Kent and by Ambassador Taylor that it was contributing to a potentially negative effect on U.S.-Ukraine relations. Do you agree with that?
HALE: Well, the State department position was to advocate for the continuation of that assistance as an important element -- in fact a key element -- of our strategy to support Russia -- support Ukraine against Russia.
RATCLIFFE: My time's expired. I yield back.
SCHIFF: Mr. Himes?
HIMES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you to our witnesses for testifying tonight.
I'm delighted to follow Mr. Ratcliffe because he just perfectly summarized the defense that my Republican colleagues are mounting of this behavior. And the defense goes like this. The president is acting on some deep historical concern -- apparently invisible concern -- about corruption. And that because he's so concerned about corruption in Ukraine, he is holding up aid and being prudent and judicious.
The first part of that is pretty easy to dispose of because President Trump wasn't worried about corruption in Ukraine. In fact, in the two conversations he had with the president of Ukraine on April 21st and July 25th, not once does the president of the United States use the word or mention corruption to the president.
The second part of that is a little bit more interesting, that he's just being prudent in holding up aid. That's not just wrong, it's illegal. Because Ms. Cooper, and I -- I want you to help us walk through this -- since the Impoundment Control Act of 1974, the president has not had the authority to, on a whim or out of prudence or, as my Republicans say, because of a general skepticism of foreign aid, to stop foreign aid.
Ms. Cooper, under our Constitution, it's the Congress, not the president that controls the power of the purse, correct?
COOPER: Yes, sir.
HIMES: And the security assistance -- the assistance that was authorized to Ukraine was authorized and appropriated by the Congress, correct?
COOPER: Yes, sir.
HIMES: So Congress is also concerned about corruption. It wants to ensure that American foreign assistance is spent wisely and does not worsen corruption. And so when Congress authorized this money, it built in conditions just as Mr. Ratcliffe suggested. By law, Ukraine wouldn't get all the money until it demonstrated that it had undertaken substantial anti-corruption reforms.
Ms. Cooper, under the law, the Department of Defense works with the State Department and other agencies to establish anti-corruption benchmarks and determine whether Ukraine has sufficiently met those benchmarks, correct?
COOPER: That's correct. That provision pertains to the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.
HIMES: And that's not -- that's a legally specified process. That's not the president in the Oval Office manifesting a general skepticism of foreign aid, right?
COOPER: Sir, it is...
HIMES: That's a process.
COOPER: ... it is a congressionally mandated process. Yes, sir.
HIMES: So did that process take place for the DOD funding that was held up in July?
COOPER: Sir, the process that took place for the certification took place prior to the May certification to the U.S. Congress.
HIMES: So, right. Not only did it take place before, as required by law, but months before President Trump froze the money, the Department of Defense, in consultation with State, sent a letter to Congress certifying -- and you said this in your opening statement -- the government of Ukraine has taken substantial actions to make Defense institutional reforms for the purposes of decreasing corruption, increasing accountability and sustaining improvements of combat capability enabled by U.S. assistance.
So by the time President Trump froze the aid, the Department of Defense had spent weeks if not months determining that the Ukrainian government met every requirement in the law and made significant strides in combating corruption. Is that correct?
COOPER: That is correct. We made that determination in May.
HIMES: So this wasn't about corruption, the timeline proves it. And in fact, if there was any doubt about what was going on here, the chairman referred to your inference from the conversation with Ambassador Volker that if the Ukraine made a statement committing to the investigations, the aid would be lifted. You covered that with the chairman.
[18:25:00] And then of course, we have the press conference of October 17th when Mick Mulvaney let the cat fully out of the bag. He revealed that President Trump talked to him about -- and I quote Mick Mulvaney here -- "the corruption related to the DNC server," and admitted that, quote, "That's why we held up the money." Any other explanation for the hold is a farce.
Now, in my remaining 30 seconds, just so that people understand what I referred to, in the 1970s, Richard Nixon just arbitrarily decided -- I don't know if it was because he had a general skepticism of foreign aid or what his motives were, but -- Richard Nixon decided to hold up congressionally mandated aid. And as a result, Congress went to work and passed the Impoundment Control Act of 1974, which prohibits the president from withholding congressionally appropriated funds without the approval of Congress for any reason. Is that correct, Ms. Cooper?
COOPER: Sir, I am not a lawyer but that approximates my understanding of the provision of the Impound Control Act.
HIMES: OK. I'll go with "that approximates." Thank you very much.
And I yield back the balance of my time.
SCHIFF: Mr. Conaway?
CONAWAY: Thank (ph) you (ph), Mr. (ph) Chairman (ph).
As Paul Harvey said, there's (ph) the rest of the story. And my colleague failed to put the right (ph) (inaudible) on certain issues with respect to the certification.
DOD certification was not corruption writ large throughout the entire country of Ukraine, it was narrowly focused on Defense institutional reforms and combat capability. Isn't that correct, Ms. Cooper?
COOPER: That's correct, sir.
CONAWAY: First of all, Ms. Cooper, thank you for being here this afternoon. I appreciate that. But my colleague seemed to leave that out of his original -- he read it when your (ph) -- when he read your statement, but he left off the correct emphasis.
So the certification in May didn't really speak to the broader concept of corruption throughout the rest of Ukraine that the president would be familiar with -- the rest of us would be familiar with?
COOPER: Sir, the May certification was specific to the Defense sector...
CONAWAY: Thank you.
COOPER: ... Defense industry and it did reference the importance of civilian control of the military, relates -- which relates more broadly to...
CONAWAY: Right. But I think all of us would argue -- none of us would argue that that fixes corruption throughout the rest of the country.
Ms. Cooper, maybe you can shed some light on the specific details. We talk about this -- the security assistance program, $250 million. Some would argue that because the pause, that people died in August because of the pause.
Can you help us understand exactly what obligated and was there things that were about to be delivered to Ukraine? Was Ukraine out of ammunition, were they out of -- out of Javelins, were they out of all this stuff and that because of this pause, they didn't get certain lethal equipment that they needed in order to protect their folks during the month of August? COOPER: Sir, we will deliver all of the equipment...
CONAWAY: I understand, I'm just trying to get a timeline, Ms. Cooper.
COOPER: ... and it -- it -- there was no shortfall in equipment deliveries that were expected within that time frame. "Obligate" means that you're putting the funding on contract...
CONAWAY: OK, and that's contracts would (ph) be...
COOPER: ... and you're staring the process.
CONAWAY: Yeah, those contracts would be fulfilled fourth quarter perhaps, or whenever it was?
COOPER: Sir, I have to say I'm a policy official, I am not a contracting expert, but my understanding is that we will be able to make up for lost time in the contracting process.
CONAWAY: Fantastic. You go through three or four steps that you went to because you disagreed with the hold being placed on the - on the - on the assistance and I certainly agree with that but did you get any kind of criticism from the folks that you deal with because you were going against the OMB's direction to put a hold on that? Did you get criticized at all for that?
COOPER: Absolutely not. My entire chain of command was supportive of advocating for removing the hold on the funds.
CONAWAY: And you weren't restricted on a full throated advocating on behalf of getting this hold lifted, were you?
COOPER: No, sir, I faced no restrictions.
CONAWAY: OK. Well thank you for that. I thought you might be more in - in touch with the actual specifics of the accounting process and so I will - I'll defer to any further questions. And again, thank you for being here tonight. I yield back.
SCHIFF: Ms. Sewell?
SEWELL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Ambassador Hale, when did you actually find out about the hold on the Ukraine assistance? Was it July 21st?
HALE: Yes, I - in the deposition that I did, the closed hearing, I misspoke. I was confused and I confused June 21st, which was when State first sent the CN up to - the Congressional Notification to OMB for clearance. It was only after about July 18 and I think the 21st was when I heard that there was a potential hold.
SEWELL: Thank you for that clarification. Now did you attend the July 26th deputies meeting - deputies committee meeting that occurred?
HALE: Yes, I did.
SEWELL: Was it also your understanding that the President directed the hold?
HALE: We were told in that meeting by the OMB representative that they were objecting to proceeding with the assistance because the President had so directed through the Chief of Staff - Acting Chief of Staff.
SEWELL: What was the State Department's position regarding the hold?
HALE: The State Department advocated, as I did in that meeting, for proceeding with all of the assistance consistent with our policies and interests in Ukraine.
SEWELL: You believed in what you said, you believed in the release of the hold?
HALE: Yes, I did.
SEWELL: Did anyone at the interagency meeting at the end of July support the hold? Did anybody want the hold to remain, and if so, who? What agency?
HALE: The only agency - the only agency represented in the meeting that indicated that they supported the hold was OMB.
SEWELL: Ms. Cooper, did you understand similarly that there was an overwhelming interagency consensus to lift the hold and that OMB, at the direction of the President, was the only roadblock?
COOPER: Yes, ma'am.
SEWELL: How is the security assistance in the national security interests of the United States? What is our interest? Explain that to my constituents in Alabama who are wondering why we should care about the security - the hold that's on the security assistance.
COOPER: Yes, ma'am. This specific assistance helps build the capacity of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. And it's important to understand that these are forces that are fighting to defend themselves against Russian aggression every day. It's an ongoing war.
So they do need this equipment to support their ability to defend themselves and I would say there's a larger issue here that relates to U.S. policy on Russia. We believe it's very important to strengthen the capacity of Ukraine in order to deter Russian aggression elsewhere around the world.
SEWELL: Exactly. Were you ever able to get a reason why that hold was on? Did you ever get a reason?
COOPER: No, ma'am. The only thing that I heard about it - but this is, again, you know, second, thirdhand, I'm - was that the President was concerned about corruption, but that was all I ever heard.
SEWELL: So would you - were you ever at - provided any additional information about the reason for the hold? COOPER: No, ma'am.
SEWELL: I thank you and I yield the balance of my time to the Chairman.
SCHIFF: I thank the gentlewoman. My colleagues in the minority asked Mr. Hale wasn't it common to have holds on military aid and I think you said they're not unusual. Would you agree, though, that it would be very unusual to place a hold on military aid in order to leverage a foreign country to get them to investigate a political opponent?
SCHIFF: And I take it that you would agree that that would be completely inappropriate?
HALE: It would be inconsistent with the conduct of our foreign policy in general.
SCHIFF: And it would also be wrong, wouldn't it?
HALE: Certainly not what I would do.
SCHIFF: Mr. Turner?
TURNER: Of course, it would be interesting if any witness had ever testified that that was the case. I yield my time to Mr. Jordan.
JORDAN: I thank the gentleman for yielding. First of all, I just wanted to go where the Chairman started. He said that Ambassador Hale was one of our witnesses. They're all your witnesses. You've - you've - you've called 17 witnesses, you subpoenaed 15 of them. They're all your witnesses. We didn't get to subpoena anyone, we didn't even get to call anyone. You gave us an opportunity to get a list to you a couple of weeks ago where we made suggestions on who you might allow us to have so we did put three people of those 17 on that list so that they could provide at least some semblance of - of context and framework for this entire thing. So once again, trying to - misleading the - the folks watching this hearing is - is not - not helpful.
Thank you both for being here and for your service to our country. Ambassador, I read through yours - Ambassador to Pakistan, Lebanon, Special Envoy to the Middle East, Ambassador to Jordan, served in Tunisia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia. You've been to about every hot spot on the planet. Thank you for those hardship assignments, we - we - we appreciate your - your service.
Let me go first to - earlier this - today, Mr. Sondland - Ambassador Sondland, excuse me, said that he was denied access to some of his records and the State Department put out a statement, they said this, "Ambassador Sondland, like every current Department of State employee called before Congress in this matter, retained at all times and continues to retain full access to his State Department documentary records and his State Department e-mail account, which he has always been fully free to access and review at will."
That's an accurate statement from the State Department, isn't it, Ambassador Hale?
HALE: I had not seen it until shortly before entering this hearing room but it sounds accurate, yes.
JORDAN: I appreciate that. Ambassador, you're aware of no connection between the pause in aid and an exchange for any kind of investigation. Is that correct?
HALE: I'm sorry, I missed a key word. Could you repeat the question?
JORDAN: You're - you're - you're not aware of any connection between the pause in aid and an exchange for some kind of investigation being announced or done by Ukraine.
JORDAN: Is that right? And you're not aware of Secretary Pompeo having any knowledge - direct knowledge of a connection between investigations and security aid. Is that correct?
HALE: I'm not aware of that. He did not speak to me about that.
JORDAN: You're not aware of any nefarious motive to withhold aid to Ukraine. Is that correct?
HALE: Correct, sir.
JORDAN: In fact, you testified that what you knew was that President Trump was one, skeptical of foreign assistance generally - Mr. Ratcliffe highlighted that in his round of questioning - and two, skeptical of the corruption environment in Ukraine. Is that accurate?
HALE: Well we had heard that. That was a general impression at the State Department. Correct.
JORDAN: And the aid was actually eventually released to Ukraine. Is that correct, as well?
HALE: Yes, I read that, sir.
JORDAN: And there was just a 55 day or less than two months pause in the actual hold on the aid, is that right Ambassador?
HALE: Seems so, yes, that's correct.
JORDAN: And to your knowledge as a top principle at the State Department, an investigation in to the Bidens, Burisma, or the 2016 election never happened by the Ukrainians, is that correct?
HALE: I don't know that I have the ability to answer that question having taken this job in August of 2018.
JORDAN: Oh, well since you've taken the job, how about that?
HALE: To my knowledge that's correct.
JORDAN: Thank you, I yield back.
SCHIFF: Mr. Carson.
CARSON: Thank you, Chairman. Ms. Cooper, Ukraine is the first line of defense against Russia's aggression and expansion in to Europe. Numerous witnesses testify that Ukraine is in fact vulnerable to Russian influence and control. Your deposition sir, you testified that providing security assistance is, "vital to helping the Ukrainians be able to defend themselves." What do you mean by that, sir?
HALE: That we have a longstanding policy of helping Ukraine become a resilient state, in order to be able to defend itself. We want a reliable, and resilient, and self-reliant, secured and economic (ph) partner in Ukraine that can stand up to Russian intimidation and aggression.
CARSON: You testified at the time of Russia's 2014 attack that the Ukrainian Armed Forces were, "significantly less capable than it is today." Would you say, sir, that Ukrainian forces were outmatched by Russia's military in important ways?
HALE: I did not so testify (ph) -- I think, I'm Ambassador Hale, and of course Ms. Cooper may wish to respond.
CARSON: Madam Cooper, would you like to comment?
COOPER: I'm sorry, I do believe that was my deposition -- but could you just repeat the question briefly?
CARSON: So during the time of Russia's 2014 attack, the Ukrainian Armed Forces were, "significantly less capable than it is today." Would you say that Ukrainian forces were outmatched by Russia's military in critical ways?
CARSON: Are the Ukrainian forces now completely self-sufficient in your mind? Essentially in their ability to deter Russian aggression?
COOPER: No, sir. They have a long way to go.
CARSON: Would you say that the Ukrainian Armed Forces now -- are now completely self-sufficient, or how much of an impact does the U.S. need to have in terms of that deterrence and how critical is the relationship between both Ukraine and the U.S.?
COOPER: Sir, the Ukrainians are on the right path to be able to provide for their own security, but they will still need U.S. and allied support for quite some time, and they need that support in the form of -- you know, tangible assistance as well as political and diplomatic support.
CARSON: So this question is to the both of you -- why was Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea so significant in your mind? Madam Cooper?
COOPER: Russia violated the sovereignty of Ukraine's territory. Russia illegally annexed territory that belonged to Ukraine. They also denied Ukraine access to its naval fleet at the time, and to this day Russia is building a capability on Crimea, designed to expand Russian military power projection far beyond the immediate region.
CARSON: In 2014 were there concerns in Washington -- here in Washington, and in European capitals that Russia might not stop in Ukraine?
COOPER: I was not in my current position in 2014, but it is my understanding that there was significant fear about where Russian aggression would stop.
CARSON: So what about today? If the U.S. were to withdraw its military support of Ukraine, what would effectively happen?
COOPER: It is my belief that if we were to withdraw our support, it would embolden Russia -- it would also validate Russia's violation of international law.
CARSON: And which country stands to benefit the most? Would stand to benefit the most from such a withdraw?
CARSON: Ambassador Taylor testified about the importance of the U.S. upholding the international system, and it has underwritten peace in Europe since the end of World War II, a critical aspect of defending that system is ensuring that Russia cannot change its borders by military force.
That is why there are strong bipartisan support (ph), we're providing Ukraine with security assistance. That is why it is so incredibly destructive of the president, of the United States to withhold this assistance as part of a scheme to pressure Ukraine in to investigating a debunked conspiracy theory and attack former Vice President Biden.
Mr. Chairman, I yield back.
SCHIFF: Dr. Wenstrup.
WENSTRUP: Thank you Mr. Chairman, thank you both for being here. As Army Reserve Surgeon I can say as both of you have, that I served proudly for two Republicans and two Democrat presidents myself.
I want to go to -- Ms. Cooper, if I can, on page three -- said, "I heard the president had directed the office of management and budget to hold funds because of his concerns about corruption in Ukraine."
And you know, you're coming from the DoD side, here -- you know, I served a year in Iraq, and it was important -- and I think it's something that the Army always does, as I have seen. That we don't want to deliver aid or assistance if there -- if it's going to some corrupt -- or being delivered in some corrupt way.
In other words if we're going to build a medical treatment facility for the Iraqis we want to make sure we're not getting charged 10 times as much. I mean, we're concerned about corruption in general when we're delivering funds through the DoD, is that correct?
COOPER: Yes sir.
WENSTRUP: So I think that that's a normal thing to want to be concerned about, and we would do that in Iraq -- and especially if we're providing payment for something. So I just want to go through a few things with you because multiple witnesses have testified that the action to provide Javelins to Ukraine by the Trump administration demonstrated the strong U.S. support to Ukraine.
Ambassador Yovanovitch in her deposition said President Trump's decision to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine, that our policy actually got stronger over the last three years. She also said in terms of lethal assistance we all felt it was very significant with this -- that this administration made the decision to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine.
Ambassador Taylor said it was a substantial improvement in that this administration provided Javelin anti-tank weapons, a very strong political message that said the Americans are willing to provide more than blankets.
Ambassador Volker testified that providing lethal, defensive arms to Ukraine has been extremely helpful. Mr. Volker also stated MREs and blankets and all that's fine, but if you're being attacked with mortars and artilleries and tanks, you need to be able to fight back.
WENSTRUP: Secretary George Kent stated that Javelins are incredibly effective weapons at stopping armed advance, and the Russians are scared of them. Special Advisor Catherine Croft stated the Javelins help Ukraine defend themselves. The decision to provide Javelins, we believe is counter to Russian interest. Do you dispute what these witnesses have testified to, including Ambassador Yovanovitch, Taylor, Volker, and others?
COOPER: Sir, I absolutely agree that the javelin system is an important capability and that this was an important decision to support Ukraine with this capability.
WENSTRUP: Thank you. And you already testified that you're personally proud of the Trump administration's decision to arm Ukraine with javelins. Correct?
COOPER: That is correct sir.
WENSTRUP: So one of the things on page three tonight, you were talking about meeting July 26 and after that you said, I was aware that the national security committee expressed unanimous support for resuming the funding as in the U.S. national security interests, that's correct? You said that today?
COOPER: That's correct sir.
WENSTRUP: So I guess I take a little question with resuming, because we don't want to resume as is. Without be correct? Because as is would not have the javelin?
COOPER: Sir, I'm not sure I'm following.
WENSTRUP: Well what I was going to say (ph), in the previous administration, javelins were not provided even though they could have been. President Obama stopped the javelins. He could have delivered javelins, let's put it that way.
COOPER: Sir, I think I should clarify what I mean with that statement. Resuming was just to the fact that OMB had placed a hold on the assistance so we weren't spending, and I wanted to resume the spending so that we could maintain this policy, maintain this strength
WENSTRUP: Maintain the policy but I guess what I'm asking, there is a difference, and I think Undersecretary Hale, you might -- I thought I saw you nodding -- the difference being that as it resumed in this case, now it included javelins, which the Obama administration denied. Correct?
COOPER: It is true that the Trump administration has approved the release of defensive lethal assistance to include javelins where the previous administration did not support that policy.
WENSTRUP: Mr. Hale, get a comment on that?
HALE: That seems correct, I defer to Ms. Cooper as the expert.
WENSTRUP: OK. I think we can conclude that more than blankets and MREs have been helping the Ukrainians and the lethal defense of weapons are something the Trump administration has proved and it's a benefit to all of us. Thank you.
SCHIFF: Ms. Speier.
SPEIER: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you both for being here this evening. There is this mystery surrounding the hold on the aid in July it appears, but back in May Ms. Cooper, I believe you said that there was aid that was conditioned but you certified and May that the conditions had been met. Had they included progress on command and control reform, commitment to pursue defense industry reform and pass laws to enable government to government procurement is, that correct?
COOPER: Yes ma'am, that's correct.
SPEIER: So then when you find out in July that they're concerned about corruption, you're scratching your head right?
COOPER: Yes ma'am we did not hear that. SPEIER: And did you know of any effort that was undertaken to assess the corruption in Ukraine and June, July or august?
COOPER: Ma'am, as I believe I said in my deposition, they only specific discussions that I am aware of related to that series of inter agency meeting, the subPCC (ph), the PCC -- policy coordination committee -- and a deputy small group, and in those meetings participants did discuss the degree to which corruption was a concern and the degree to which there was progress. And my recollection of what the participants said in these meetings was that there was a very positive sense that progress was being made.
SPEIER: So you have these meetings, process is being made, nothing really changes from May until September. That would then trigger the release of the money except a whistleblower being come forward?
COOPER: Ma'am, I do not know what triggered the release of the funding.
SPEIER: All right. The fact that there was a reference made to money being withheld for other countries was made for some of our colleagues, but in those situations in countries like Pakistan, Lebanon, they're multi-year funding streams (ph), correct?
COOPER: Ma'am, those accounts fall outside of my purview so I cannot answer that question.
SPEIER: OK. Well I've been told that that is indeed the case. So there is not the immediate angst (ph) or hit financially that would potentially occur (ph). But the difference as I see it in Ukraine as compared to these other countries. is that Ukraine is engaged in a hot war with Russia right now, and it seems that withholding that money was irresponsible considering that they had made and taken steps to all the conditions that we had requested about Congress that had appropriate the funds. Is that not the case?
COOPER: Ma'am, I and my DOD colleagues advocated strenuously for the release of these funds because of our national security importance.
SPEIER: So basically, the entire interest of the Department of Defense and State Department were consistently supportive of releasing the funds, everyone was mystified as to why they had been withheld and everyone is running around trying to get an answer and you're getting kind of obtuse responses saying it was the president because of corruption. Now, what we see is that President Zelensky gets elected in April, the expectation is that Vice President Pence is going to attend the inauguration in September and the president pulls the carpet from under him in terms of him going. He then perceives and June or July to withhold the funds. There is a concerted effort by the president of the United States to act in a matter that is not consistent with our interest and wanting to protect Ukraine and help them deal with the Russian aggression patterns at this border. Would you agree with that? COOPER: Ma'am, I have advocated for the security assistance and have advocated for a high level engagement with Ukraine because I think both are in the actual security interest.
SPEIER: I yield back.
SCHIFF: Mr. Stewart.
STEWART: Thank you chairman. Undersecretary, assistant secretary, thank you for being here. You're both recognized as experts, dedicated public servants and I've got to tell you, being the president of the United States is perhaps the most complicated endeavor in history of the world. No one can do it without people like you to provide that backbone that you do, thank you for doing that. I don't mean to repeat the same questions ad nauseam but I think we reached a point ad nauseam, I don't know, sometime yesterday or sometime ago.
It's some repetitive here and you'll forgive me for doing that. Although, Ms. Cooper, I do have some -- some questions based on some things you've said previously. And I would just want to add for clarification, there's a question about these emails that -- that I think they claimed withholding -- described withholding the aid.
And they had come from Capitol Hill or from someone on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Is that true?
COOPER: Sir, are you referring to my statement today or something previous?
STEWART: I believe this is previous -- a question we had previous. Are you aware of such an email?
COOPER: I'm -- I'm sorry, I don't think I have enough information to make an assessment. Is it from a particular page in my deposition?
STEWART: No, it's just reporting that we've heard that there may have been communications with you with someone on the Foreign Affairs Committee on the Hill. Is that -- is that not true?
COOPER: That there may have been communications with me?
STEWART: Yes, email with you.
COOPER: Sir, I am not -- I'm not aware.
STEWART: OK. Thank you. And for clarification as well, someone may have asked you or quarried you from the Ukrainian embassy about the withholding of aid. Is that true, did you hear from them?
COOPER: Sir, I testified earlier that the communication from the Ukrainian embassy was to my staff. And my staff mentioned this to me after my deposition. The only specific communication that I recollect with the Ukrainians about this specific issue was on, I believe it was September 5th at a reception at the Ukrainian embassy.
STEWART: And just to bore down on that just a little. But was that just a quarry generally about the forthcoming aid or was it specific regarding them being aware that the aid was being withheld?
COOPER: Sir, just to be clear, the September 5th conversation that I had was specific to the hold. There -- they -- there was an awareness of that and there was a question of concern.
STEWART: OK. Thank you. You know, Ms. Cooper -- well, to both of you, Undersecretary Hale as well, at the end of the day it really does and I've done this before; it really does come down to this. The transcript I'm holding up is the transcript to the phone call between President Zelensky and President Trump that I would hope every American would take the opportunity to read. It's only a few pages long.
And -- and much more information beyond that is maybe helpful to inform but it really comes down to those conversations, those few sentences. But Mr. Hale, going quickly through a series of questions and I have your answers here so this won't take long, and you've answered them generally anyway.
You agree the United States should evaluate whether a country is worthy of our aid. Is that fair to say?
HALE: Yes, sir.
STEWART: And you understand as well that President Trump has been skeptical generally of foreign aid and -- and some of the money that we've given. Is that fair as well?
HALE: I think so.
STEWART: And I think that's being fairly consistent. He's done that since before he was elected, I think. Others in the process have testified Ukraine has a long history of corruption. That's not going to surprise anyone of us. We've talked about that about a thousand times.
Do you think it was right that President Trump would -- would test, is the word I think you used previously -- that he would test President Zelensky prior to -- to providing some of the security assistance.
HALE: The -- President Zelensky was new.
HALE: I had met him in February. I was impressed by him but I think it was understandable for the administration as a new president in Ukraine was coming to office to understand better what that president's policies would be and attitude toward the United States.
STEWART: And see, Undersecretary, I think that's key because we've had it referred to while the DOD had completed their review about the same time, but this was a person who was elected and we knew nothing about him. He didn't have a history of governance in Ukraine. He came really out -- a little bit like President Trump himself. He did not come from a public background that we would have much information on him. And it seems prudent, as you said, to kind of test him and see if he was serious about Ukraine.
At -- at some point I'm going to conclude. I believe it was about Labor Day, the secretary was able to engage the president on the security assistance about the same time, by the way, that you had some others, (inaudible) Vice President Pence and Bolton's -- and Bolton as well, as well as the Burden Sharing Review is completed. And shortly thereafter the aid was released. Is that your understanding.
HALE: I -- I was never informed as to why the assistance was released. I did read out it.
STEWART: OK. Well, those events did happen and seemed like they were the reason the aid was released. But thank you both and I yield back.
SCHIFF: Mr. Quigley.
QUIGLEY: Thank you. Thank you both for being here and thank you for your service. You've both been asked about the -- the importance of this military assistance as it effects Ukrainian sovereignty and its importance because of potential -- greater ambitions by the Russians.
Let me try to put it in context and please get your reaction from -- from both of you from someone who had been there before and renowned international policy expert on such things, (inaudible) Brazinsky (ph).
His quote seems to strike home today. He wrote, Russia can either be an empire or a democracy but it cannot be both. Without Ukraine Russia ceases to be an empire. But with Ukraine subordinate (ph) -- and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes and empire. Your thoughts of how this puts this into context today please?
COOPER: Sir, I think that is a very powerful and accurate quote.
HALE: I would agree.
QUIGLEY: Ms. Cooper, you talked about emails that were drawn to your attention that you -- they were sent to your staff. Is that correct?
COOPER: The emails that I discussed this evening were emails sent to my staff. That is correct.
QUIGLEY: OK. I -- I think first of all, it's important to point this out that it's not something you were aware of, it points to a larger issue that the Defense Department, the State Department have refused to comply with a dually issued subpoena to provide this committee with documents that would further shed light on when precisely Ukrainians knew about the hold.
So this isn't something you're aware of but there is untold information out there being blocked that would draw greater light and help us understand. Is there anything else out there that you're aware of or possibilities that are out there with DOD or the State Department, which could help us shed light on what the Ukrainians knew and when they knew it.
COOPER: Sir, I have shared with the committee all that I recollect. But I have not done and exhaustive investigation. So I really can't speculate on what else might be available by combing through all of the Defense Department records, which are substantial.
QUIGLEY: Did the State Department or Department of Defense ask you for your information or did you -- did they coordinate with you to get information you had?
COOPER: Sir, I was told not to -- not to destroy anything and our -- our I.T. personnel have been collecting documents is my understanding. So that -- that occurs without -- without the individual having to ...
QUIGLEY: Well, they were collecting it and passing it on to State or DOD, is that correct?
COOPER: I'm sorry, sir, could you repeat that?
QUIGLEY: They were -- you said your department was collecting it. Were -- they weren't passing that on to you, they were passing it on to -- to the State Department or the Department of Defense?
COOPER: Sir, I -- this is what they reported to me. I have not seen the documents that have been collected. I only know those documents --