When Ambassadors Marie Yovanovitch and Gordon Sondland appear on Capitol Hill to testify before the House impeachment inquiry, the media pays attention. But just because Friday doesn’t bring a big in-the-news name to sit down before the combined committees, that doesn’t mean the testimony being given is trivial. Because Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper knows the details about the military aid that was slated for Ukraine—including when that aid was halted, and what the Pentagon was told.
What Cooper has to say could be particularly important because of what the inquiry is not getting from the rest of the Defense Department. On Wednesday, Trump-appointed Assistant Secretary of Defense Robert Hood refused to turn over subpoenaed documents after making the claim that the impeachment inquiry did not actually have the power to authorize subpoenas, along with an assertion that the DOD was covered by a kind of blanket executive branch privilege.
Without those documents, it’s difficult to verify the dates of everything involved with the military aid slated for Ukraine. When did the Defense Department inform the White House that it had completed its actual review of the proposed aid? When did Trump let the Pentagon know that he was blocking the aid under claims that the review had not been completed?
As Yahoo News reports, it was Cooper who actually had charge of the aid package and sent Ukraine a video address almost a year ago saying, “You can count on the United States to remain your strong partner in strengthening Ukraine’s military to defend Ukrainian democracy.” But the aid that Cooper promised was on its way didn’t come. Not that winter, or the next spring, or over the summer. It wasn’t until the White House was aware of the whistleblower complaint about Trump’s actions that the funds were finally released. Trump continued to hold up the money, despite a letter from the Defense Department saying that Ukraine had “taken substantial actions” toward decreasing corruption and improving accountability.
So what Cooper has to say on Friday will go a long way toward filling in the blanks of what was happening outside the White House as Trump sat on Ukrainian aid. Or … Cooper could go along with the claims that Hood made regarding the impeachment inquiry, in which case her testimony could be genuinely explosive.
If there’s going to be a fracture in the DOD, it did not happen on Friday, because Cooper did not appear. However, the inquiry seems to have worked out an appearance for next Thursday. Stay tuned.
Unlike Hood, Cooper is a career official from the Pentagon. So far, State Department officials, including political appointees like Sondland, have obeyed congressional subpoenas, appeared, and testified—apparently in full. If they have invoked any kind of privilege to protect some part of their communications, it hasn’t apparently impeded the progress of the inquiry.
On the other hand, Hood’s letter to Congress didn’t just exert a privilege claim over some information; it argued that the entire impeachment inquiry is invalid and does not have the authority to issue a subpoena, or even conduct a genuine impeachment inquiry. In short, Hood’s refusal was the Republican “Why doesn’t the whole House vote?” argument taken to an illogical extreme.
But if she does provide some of the same information that Hood refused to hand over, it will represent an extreme internal schism at the Defense Department between career military officials and Trump’s political appointees.