Cooper provided new information about when Ukraine knew there were conditions on receiving its military assistance. Here are three takeaways from their testimonies.
1. The July 25 date conspicuously surfaces again.
Cooper is a Russia and Ukraine expert at the Defense Department who oversees the department’s long-term strategy on Russia. She testified that she viewed the military aid for Ukraine as critically important and that she had no idea why it was held up over the summer, despite Congress authorizing the money and the Defense Department having assured that Ukraine had met the qualifications for receiving it in May.
But then she added something else notable: that she has since learned the Ukrainians reached out on July 25, asking members of her staff what was going on with the military aid. That’s big for two reasons:
- July 25 is the same day Trump talked with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the phone and asked for “a favor,” to investigate a debunked notion about the 2016 election and the Bidens. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the Ukrainians reach out to the Pentagon, to Cooper and her staff, to get more information about why they hadn’t received the aid that same day. This is just days after officials in the State Department learned the aid had been held up. Cooper said the Ukrainians “likely” knew about the aid being held up then, too.
- It is the earliest date we’ve heard so far that Ukrainians may have known their military assistance had been withheld. Previously, U.S. diplomats testified Ukrainians became aware they weren’t getting their military aid in August, after a Politico article reported on it. But it changes the game if Ukrainians were concerned about their aid being withheld when their president was talking to Trump. If the Ukrainians knew Trump had the ability to give them $400 million in military help when Trump asked Zelensky “a favor, though,” it weakens a Republican defense that there couldn’t have been a quid pro quo evident in that request.
2. Republicans don’t catch a break on the witnesses.
Republicans can request witnesses to testify in the impeachment inquiry. Democrats can and did overrule many of their requests, such as on the whistleblower and Hunter Biden. On Tuesday, two they had listed among their requests, former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and former White House Russia national security expert Tim Morrison, both said it was troubling if Trump had held up military aid to investigate his political opponent.
On Wednesday we heard from another person Republicans had on their list of requested witnesses: Hale, the No. 3 at the State Department and the top professional diplomat there. Under questioning from Democrats, he said something similar that was unhelpful to Trump’s case:
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.): Would you agree, though, that it would be very unusual to place a hold on military aid to leverage a foreign country to get them to investigate a political opponent?Hale: Yes.Schiff: And I take it you would agree that that would be completely inappropriate.Hale: That would be inconsistent with the conduct of our foreign policy in general.Schiff: And it’d be wrong, wouldn’t it?Hale: It’s certainly not what I would do.
Later, Hale agreed something else Trump did was wrong: that former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was ousted under allegations driven by Trump personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani. Hale jumped at the chance to defend Yovanovitch: “I believe that she should have been able to stay at post and continue to do the outstanding work —”
Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.) cut him off, by asking directly: Would Hale agree “that what happened to her was wrong?”
Hale: “Yes, sir.”
Finally, Hale confirmed what Trump himself has acknowledged: Office of Management and Budget officials said Trump ordered the hold on the aid.
3. Republicans aren’t bowed by Sondland’s testimony.
Sondland is a Trump donor and a Trump appointee who was doing Trump’s bidding in Ukraine. And he testified Wednesday that there were conditions for Ukraine’s president to get a meeting and a phone call with Trump: They had to announce investigations into Democrats. He also knocked down a number of Republicans’ defenses for the president.
But House Republicans have been remarkably unified in this whole impeachment inquiry, and they didn’t miss a beat following Sondland’s testimony.
They regrouped and asked questions of Cooper and Hale that underscored that presidents sometimes do want to pause foreign aid to make sure it’s going to the right place. Or that neither Cooper nor Hale had evidence the aid was stopped to pressure Ukrainians, despite their high-level rankings in their respective agencies.
This unity is Trump’s best strength. It’s possible if/when the House of Representatives votes to impeach him, it will be an entirely Democratic vote. And Trump can continue to try to argue this impeachment inquiry is a partisan effort against him.