The latest on the Trump impeachment inquiry
Catherine Croft, a State Department adviser on Ukraine, testified that the Office of Management and Budget placed an earlier hold on Javelin missiles to Ukraine because OMB Director Mick Mulvaney was concerned “Russia would react negatively to the provision of Javelins to Ukraine,” despite the fact that “all of the other policy agencies were in support.”
She told lawmakers that OMB put a hold on the Javelin provision in late 2017and early 2018 and that it was a policy decision that centered around the question of Russia’s reaction. Mulvaney raised concerns about Russia’s reaction, according to Croft.
Croft and Richard Hooker, a senior director in the National Security Council, briefed Mulvaney on the decision.
According to Croft, “In a briefing with Mr. Mulvaney, the question centered around the Russian reaction.” Mulvaney was concerned “that Russia would react negatively to the provision of Javelins to Ukraine.”
“I can broadly say that all of the policy agencies were in support,” she said. Asked if she meant in support of providing the Javelins, Croft responded: “Correct.”
“The lone objector in the paper PC on the Javelin decision was OMB,” Croft told lawmakers, adding that not providing the missiles to Ukraine would be in Russia’s interest.
Croft said that the hold was ultimately lifted after Mulvaney was told all the agencies were in agreement to provide the missiles and his concerns about Russia’s reaction was addressed.
State Department official Catherine Croft testified that she was “trepidatious” about accepting the job as special assistant to former US special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker because “it was possible that the Trump administration would choose to change its policy to suit domestic politics.”
Croft said she "speculated" in a conversation with diplomat Bill Taylor about the effect of a potential Joe Biden candidacy and that "it seemed logical to me that in an attempt to counter the narrative about Russian support for the Trump administration in the 2016 election or Russian interference in the 2016 election that—that it would be useful to shift that narrative by shifting it to Ukraine as being in support of the Clintons."
She thought that "painting sort of Ukraine as being against Trump would help distract from a narrative or balance out a narrative that he had gotten help in the 2016 election from Russia."
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper relayed that individuals at the Department of Defense and other agencies believed Ukraine was making progress in combatting corruption, enough to continue providing the aid being challenged by the Office of Management and Budget.
“(I)n interagency discussions, DOD participants affirmed that we believed sufficient progress had been made,” Cooper said.
Asked if it wasn’t just Defense Department participants who believed that the funds should flow to Ukraine during these meetings, Cooper responded, “That’s correct. It was unanimous with the exception of the statements by OMB representatives, and those statements were relaying higher level guidance.”
She said that had been the case during all four interagency meetings on the issue.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper told members of Congress that Department of Defense personnel in Kiev were “expressing serious concerns” about withholding aid.
Cooper said that during the summer when the fate of the aid was in question, “our team in Kyiv was acutely aware of the hold and was expressing serious concerns to us.”
She clarified that those concerns were relayed to her in-person.
In today's episode of "The Daily DC: Impeachment Watch" podcast, CNN's Zachary Wolf looks at:
- How impeachment is playing out on the 2020 campaign trail
- How Democrats are taking their case for impeachment public and presenting it to the American people
- The Republicans' call for the whistleblower to be known and to testify
- Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney who has asked a court to allow him to join a lawsuit about the House subpoena power over White House witnesses in the impeachment probe
Wolf is joined today by Jeff Zeleny, CNN's senior Washington correspondent, and Julie Pace, CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief for the Associated Press.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper said that former National Security Council official Fiona Hill expressed concern about “kind of a parallel process” for foreign policy “multiple times,” but that she doesn’t recall Hill did not specifically mention President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani by name.
“I heard her remarks on multiple occasions that there was a separate track handling foreign policy. I don't recall her specifying Giuliani by name; but she did multiple times express concern that there was kind of a parallel process to the one that she was handling,” Cooper said.
“And, I mean, the way she characterized it was the challenge of managing and, you know, coordinating an interagency process when there are those who work outside of that process and have engagements with foreign officials that, you know, people inside the process are unaware of,” she added.
The House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry related to Ukraine will release transcripts of testimonies from two State Department experts on Ukraine tonight, according to an official working on the probe.
Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson, described as "two stars of the midlevel ranks" by a former State Department colleague, each worked as deputy to then-Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker.
About Croft: She took over the role from Anderson in the summer of 2019. She had previously served at the National Security Council, focusing on Ukraine issues, and on the State Department's Ukraine desk.
About Anderson: He is now taking language courses at the Foreign Service Institute ahead of his next overseas posting. He served at the US Embassy in Kiev.
Both have long memories of established US-Ukraine policy — another former State Department official who worked with them said they were "steeped in the policy issues."
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper told members of Congress that the Department of Defense was “concerned” with delaying aid to Ukraine.
Cooper said the agency’s concern was that removing the aid would have made “it much more difficult for them to negotiate a peace on terms that are good for Ukraine.”
“DOD was concerned about the obligation of funds. Policy, my team, we were also concerned about any signal that we would send to Ukraine about a wavering in our commitment. And that’s another reason why, I mean, we did not want for this to be a big public discussion, you know, if we were about to get it turned back on again because we didn’t want to signal any lack of support," she said.
Asked why withholding the funds would be a problem for Ukraine, Cooper said, “The first and easiest way to answer that is by looking at the peace process. They are trying to negotiate a peace with Russia, and if they are seen as weak, and if they are seen to lack the backing of the United States for their Armed Forces, it makes it much more difficult for them to negotiate a peace on terms that are good for Ukraine.”
The withholding of aid, she said, would embolden Russia and would weaken Ukraine as a strategic partner to the US.
Pentagon official Laura Cooper told members of Congress that at one point in August 2019, the Defense Department estimated that President Trump’s aid freeze would have totaled “well over $100 million.”
“I received different estimates at different points in time of what would be possible. And at one point, in August, [Defense Security Cooperation Agency] actually thought it would be, you know, well over $100 million that would not be—that there would not be time to obligate. They ended up being able to do a lot more than their earlier warnings, but we were quite concerned about the ability to execute,” Cooper said.
A member questioning Cooper clarified, “But it’s fair to say, at that point, it put $100 million of aid at risk?”
“That was my view at the time,” Cooper replied.