WASHINGTON — As the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, Laura K. Cooper was one of multiple Pentagon officials who warned the White House that freezing congressionally approved aid to Ukraine could violate the law.
Ms. Cooper, as well as other officials, repeatedly voiced concern that withholding the aid for a sustained period of time could run afoul of the Impoundment Control Act, which prevents the president from unilaterally deciding against spending money allocated by lawmakers. She also personally fielded two separate phone calls from alarmed Ukrainian diplomats quietly seeking information about the delay.
The security assistance to Ukraine — a total of nearly $400 million — and the timing of its delay is at the heart of the impeachment investigation into whether President Trump abused the power of his office to enlist a foreign government for help in an election. When she testifies Wednesday before the House Intelligence Committee, Ms. Cooper, a career Defense Department official, is expected to provide some insight into efforts to persuade the Trump administration to release the aid.
After a mid-June meeting with Mr. Trump, nearly a month before the aid was frozen, the administration began asking Ms. Cooper detailed questions about the money, she told House investigators last month in a closed-door interview. Those questions appeared prompted in part by an announcement from her office that the Pentagon planned to provide $250 million to Ukraine for training and equipment.
In her closed-door testimony, Ms. Cooper offered details into the White House’s reluctance to allow the funds to reach Ukraine. The administration, she told investigators, wanted to know which government agencies provided the funding, which American industries were involved in the aid and which other countries were contributing to Ukraine.
“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,” Ms. Cooper said. “It said, ‘Follow-up from POTUS meeting,’ so follow-up from a meeting with the president. So, you know, I’m thinking that the questions were probably questions from the president.”
Her testimony underscored the divide in the administration between efforts to ensure the aid reached Ukraine and Mr. Trump’s focus on the conditions of providing that aid. Other witnesses have testified that the president hoped to use the aid as leverage to ensure that the new Ukrainian administration opened investigations into his political rivals, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Ms. Cooper’s first appearance before House investigators last month was derailed for hours after a group of House Republicans barged into the secure room in the Capitol basement where closed-door depositions were being held. But ultimately, Ms. Cooper — who testified despite White House orders to ignore a subpoena — offered a technical, if narrow, account of the aid’s suspension.
Ms. Cooper, a St. Louis native and graduate of Georgetown University, National Defense University and Northwestern University, first worked as a policy planning officer in the State Department. She then moved to the Defense Department in 2001.
Her portfolio now includes policy related to Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia, as well as the western Balkans.