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Pentagon official says Ukraine asked about aid on day of Trump-Zelenskiy call

President Donald J. Trump participates in a bilateral meeting with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zalensky Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, at the InterContinental New York Barclay in New York City. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Ukraine voiced concern over a stoppage in $390 million of U.S. military aid to the country as early as July 25, the same day that President Donald Trump made a controversial phone call to his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, A Pentagon official has told a congressional panel.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia and Ukraine Laura Cooper on November 20 told lawmakers conducting an impeachment probe into Trump that she became aware of the holdup through e-mails her staff had received from the Ukrainian Embassy.

“The Ukrainian Embassy staff asked, ‘What is going on with Ukrainian security assistance?'” Cooper told a Democrat-led House of Representatives panel that is looking into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

The e-mails were recently shown to her and after closed-door testimony she gave to lawmakers last month. The House Foreign Affairs Committee had also asked her staff about the security assistance the same day.

However, Cooper said she couldn’t say “for certain” if Ukrainian officials in Kyiv were aware of the freeze, saying that “it’s the recollection of my staff that they likely knew.”

Republicans have argued that there couldn’t be a trade-off — investigations into Democrats, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son for military aid — if the Ukrainians weren’t aware of the bottleneck on aid.

July 25 was the day Trump prodded Zelenskiy to investigate alleged Democratic interference in the 2016 presidential election, his potential electoral opponent Joe Biden, and his son Hunter, who was a hired board member of a murky Ukrainian energy company.

Ahead of the call, Trump had withheld aid, including arms, training, and advisers to Ukraine, that was approved by Congress in this year’s budget.

That call prompted House Democrats to initiate impeachment proceedings into Trump to determine whether he abused his office for personal gain by eliciting help from a foreign government.

Trump has dismissed the inquiry as a “hoax” and “witch-hunt,” while calling the hearings a “kangaroo court.”

At the opening of the evening hearing on November 20, Representative Devin Nunes (Republican-California) described the inquiry as “an impeachment in search of a crime.”

Undersecretary of State David Hale also testified during the evening session.

Testifying in the morning hearing was Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who is one of the few witnesses who have had direct contact with Trump.

Sondland described as a “quid pro quo” Trump’s request for Kyiv to announce an investigation into Ukrainian natural-gas company Burisma and Kyiv’s purported interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

The ambassador contradicted earlier testimony by U.S. officials that Trump informed him that military aid was also conditional upon Zelenskiy making a public statement about the investigations.

“I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement” of investigations, Sondland said during six hours of testimony. Rather, it was “my own personal guess” that it was conditional.

Sondland said he was carrying out Trump’s orders to inform Ukrainian officials of his desire for a public announcement of the two investigations — as expressed through Rudy Giuliani — and repeatedly kept State Department, White House and National Security Council officials informed of his progress.

Trump on November 20 denied having sought a quid pro quo with Zelenskiy.

“I WANT NOTHING,” he read from stationery on the White House lawn. “I WANT NO QUID PRO QUO.”