A Defense Department official who sought the release of military aid for Ukraine — blocked by the White House amid attempts to get Ukraine to investigate President Donald Trump’s political rivals — is testifying Wednesday to House impeachment investigators about her knowledge of the episode.
Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, appeared despite an effort by the Pentagon to block her cooperation. Her testimony was also delayed for more than five hours Wednesday after dozens of House Republicans stormed the secure facility inside the Capitol where investigators were set to depose her.
An official who works on the impeachment inquiry said Democrats issued a subpoena and Cooper is complying — a repeat of the tactic lawmakers have used to circumvent other attempts by the Trump administration to block witnesses from appearing.
Cooper’s testimony could fill in details of an explosive aspect of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry: whether Trump withheld nearly $400 million in military aid from Ukraine to pressure the European ally’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to open two politically motivated investigations into his Democratic adversaries. The hold on aid came amid Ukraine’s struggle to fend off Russian aggression in Crimea and despite authorization from Congress and the Defense Department to move forward.
Trump’s budget office, instead, blocked the funds in late July, releasing them on Sept. 11 as scrutiny of the decision mounted.
Cooper’s appearance comes a day after Trump’s top envoy to Ukraine, William Taylor, laid out evidence of a quid pro quo directed by Trump to withhold aid — and a White House visit — from Zelensky to bend the new leader to his will.
It also comes despite the Pentagon blowing off a deadline to comply with a subpoena for documents related to the episode.
Cooper is also the first Defense Department witness to defy a directive not to testify, a sign that Trump’s blockade of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry has continued to erode. Several senior State Department officials and a former National Security Council official have already taken the same route.
On Wednesday, three defense officials indicated they were collecting and reviewing documents in response to the House subpoena but were sending them to the White House, rather than Congress, to screen for potential privileged materials.
However, the White House has vowed to resist any attempt by Democrats to seek materials for their ongoing impeachment probe.
The process of collecting documents began on Oct. 3, when the Pentagon’s top lawyer first learned of the inquiry and ordered the department to preserve records related to it, the three defense officials said.
“There are thousands and thousands of pages that are potentially responsive,” one of the defense officials said. But “we don’t own a lot of the documents that are particularly of interest here.”
Besides Cooper, no other Pentagon officials have been subpoenaed, the officials added.