It’s not a smoking gun, it’s more than that. It’s a smoldering crater.
On the day Republicans staged their theatrics and ate pizza:
PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE, joint with the
COMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND REFORM
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS,
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
THE CHAIRMAN: The House Parliamentarian will be delivering a statement about the House rules, stating that any Members that remain will be in violation of the House rules. We’ve already dispensed with enough time of this witness, so I’m going to forego my opening statement. I would urge the minority to do the same so we can begin the questioning.
Mr. Goldman, you are recognized.
MR. GOLDMAN: Thank you, Mr. Chainman. This is a deposition of Launa Cooper conducted by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, pursuant to the impeachment inquiry announcement by the Speaker of the House on
Ms. Cooper, we apologize to you for the 5-hour delay as a result of some unauthorized Republican Members being present, but we appreciate that you are here today and that you waited to take your testimony.
Q How important is security assistance to Ukrainians?
A Security assistance is vital to helping the Ukrainians be able to defend themselves.
Q Can you explain a little bit more?
A Well, if you go back to 2014, when Ukraine found itself under attack by Russia, the state of the Ukrainian Armed Forces was significantly less capable than it is today, and that capability increase is largely the result of U.S. and allied assistance. And now what you see is a Ukrainian armed force that is able to
better deter Russian aggression, and you’ve seen a drop in the kinetic action, although not — not a complete lack of hostilities, certainly. We still have casualties on a regular basis.
Q So the security assistance that’s provided by the U.S. is within the Ukrainians’ national interest, obviously. Is that night?
Q And what about within the U.S. national interest?
A It is also within the U.S. national interest to provide security assistance to Ukraine.
A Ukraine, and also Georgia, are the two front-line states facing Russian aggression. In order to deter further Russian aggression, we need to be able to shore up these counties’ abilities to defend themselves. That’s, I think, pure and simple, the rationale behind our strategy of supporting these countries. It’s in our interest to deter Russian aggression elsewhere around the world.
Q And would you also agree that the U.S. security assistance to Ukraine is also helpful to Europe as a whole with regard to thwarting any sort of Russian aggression?
Q In 2018 and 2019, has Ukrainian security assistance received bipartisan support?
A It has always received bipartisan support, in my experience.
Q And that’s both in the House and the Senate?
A Absolutely, in my experience.
Q And what about at the interagency level?
A I have witnessed, even in the recent past, overwhelming consensus in favor of providing Ukraine security assistance.
Q And when you say “within the recent past,” you mean even oven the course of this year?
A Even over the course of the summer.
Q And would you agree or disagree that Ukraine has generally made forward progress, again, oven the course of your tenure when you have been monitoring these benchmarks?
A Yes. I see significant forward progress.
Q And what was the — I guess, what was the effect of this release on June t8th by DOD?
A Well, one effect was that the Ukraine Embassy and the Ukraine Government thanked us for making that public. They had been looking for a public acknowledgement of the assistance, not because this was unusual, just they appreciate it when allies publicly note what kind of support we’re providing Ukraine.
So that was an immediate reaction. We got a thank you phone call from the — my staff did, anyway — from the Ukraine Embassy; and our team in Kyiv, in the Defense Attache Office, heard appreciation.
But the second potential effect — and I want to be clean that I am speculating here – – was that a few days later, we got a question from my chain of command forwarded down from the chief of staff, I believe, from the Department of Defense, asking for follow-up on a meeting with the President.
And it said, there are three questions. I believe it was — I think it was three questions for follow-up from this meeting, no further information on what the meeting was.
And the one question was related to U.S. industry. Did U.S. — is U.S. industry providing any of this equipment? The second question that I recall was related to international contributions. It asked, what are other countries doing, something to that effect.
And then the third question, I don’t recall — I mean, with any of these I don’t recall the exact wording, but it was something to the effect of, you know, who gave this money, on who gave this funding?
So when my office responded to these questions, we speculated that perhaps someone in the White House had seen our press release and then seen an article that came out after the press release. And the article that came out afterwards had a headline that could have been a little bit misleading, because the headline said something like, you know, U.S. gives 25O million to Ukraine, something that didn’t explain this is equipment and it’s, you know, U.S. industry and all that sort of thing.
So, again, I’m speculating here a little bit, but we did get that series of questions just within a few days after the press release and after that one article that had the headline.
A Okay. So the meeting on the 31st, the expectation I think at least of my participation in the meeting was that we would talk about security assistance, but the agenda that was prepared by the NSC was largely focused on just routine Ukraine business, post election follow up. Those sorts issues.
So it wasn’t — security assistance was not actually an explicit agenda item, but because we had left the deputies without clarity on the legally available mechanisms, this was a topic that I raised at the PCC. And I shared with the PCC my understanding that for USAI, not speaking to FMF — I left that for the State Department — but for USAI, my understanding was that there were two legally available mechanisms should the President want to stop assistance.
And the one mechanism would be Presidential rescission notice to the Congress and the other mechanism, as I understood it and articulated it in that meeting was for the Defense Department to do a reprogramming action. But I mentioned that either way, there would need to be a notification to Congress.
Q And did that occur?
A That did not occur.
A So the other — the other kind of theme during that time period was — that was when various folks in the Department started to get phone calls from industry. And the firm I referenced earlier all of these U.S. firms that were implementing USAI they were getting concerned. So during that timeframe, I don’t remember exact dates but it was kind of mid- to late August, a number of people my front office, in the Assistant Secretary office just the staff we’re getting phone calls from industry. I received a call from the Chamber of Commence.
So before the kind of press broke on it, we were hearing that there were signs of concern. And from my part, I think — I think I started to get questions from staff from congressional staff probably, you know, it was around that timeframe. It was late August, late August. And so I had prepared, and my staff had prepared here draft responses. There wasn’t much we could say other than OMB has placed a hold on this and we, you know, sent those replies up — up the chain. And I never — I never got authorization to be able to send anything oven here, and then you did start to see the news break.
Q During this timeframe, did you have any communications with Ukrainians?
A I would have to say I’m sure I did, but I don’t recall —
Q About this?
A But not about this. No, no, I did not speak with them about this. And no Ukrainians raised this issue with me on my team.
Q Okay. So to the best of —
A To my knowledge, to my knowledge.
Q To the best of your knowledge, they didn’t know that this funding was possibly being held up until —
A Oh, that’s not what I’m saying.
Q Okay. What are you saying?
A So I personally was not — sorry, I apologize. I did not mean to be interrupting you. So I personally did not have Ukrainian ministry — I deal with the ministry of defense, none of them raised this issue with me. But I knew from my Kurt Volker conversation and also from sort of the alarm bells that were coming from Ambassador Taylor and his team that there were Ukrainians who knew about this.
A They just weren’t talking to me.
Q Okay. What were your communications with the embassy during this time period on this topic?
A WeI1, my staff were mostly the folks communicating with our defense attache office. I can’t recall specifically, but it was fairly routine. We have email communications with the embassy that are fairly
Q Okay. And what was the general information you were getting from the embassy?
A The embassy was expressing clearly and consistently that we needed to get the security assistance funds released and that this would cause a major major challenge in our relationship in the Ukraine security, and that the President had sent an invite to President Zelensky much earlier, I want to say May, it might have been May on June timeframe, and that the fact that the President hadn’t followed up on that was causing a lot of concern. Those were the consistent themes from our embassy.
MR. MEADOWS: So let me come back to the obligated, unobligated funds. One, thank you for your service. And it is refreshing to have people who are experts on thein topic, and so I want to just say thank
you for that.
So your staff, they didn’t — they didn’t know that unobligated funds well typically that happens, end of fiscal year there’s always unobligated funds and there was — they were not aware of not only what happened in this case, but it had happened previously. Is that correct?
MS. COOPER: No, sir. My staff and I am aware that there are frequently unobligated funds at the very end of the year. What we were worried about in this case was that, you know, the bulk of the funds on a significant amount of funding would be unobligated. So absolutely we do understand that, you know, sometimes you can’t actually obligate everything. And I believe last year USAI did not have 100 percent obligation.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler (r): While you’re at it, a few questions… (October 23, 2019)