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Pentagon official overseeing Ukraine testifies in impeachment inquiry

Image: Laura Cooper
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper arrives to testify at a closed-door deposition as part of the U.S. House of Representatives impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Oct. 23, 2019. Copyright Carlos Jasso Reuters
Copyright Carlos Jasso Reuters
By Rebecca Shabad with NBC News Politics
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Cooper is expected to face questions about the Trump administration's decision to temporarily withhold military assistance to Ukraine over the summer.


WASHINGTON — Laura Cooper, the top Pentagon official overseeing U.S. policy regarding Ukraine, is testifying behind closed doors Wednesday as part of House Democrats'impeachment inquiry.

Her appearance comes a day after the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, told members of Congress that President Donald Trump directed officials to tie aid to Ukraine to demands that the country open an investigation into the Biden family and the 2016 election, a potentially serious blow to Trump's repeated denials of a quid pro quo.

Cooper is expected to face questions about the Trump administration's decision over the summer to withhold assistance to Ukraine that had previously been appropriated by Congress, despite the Pentagon's recommendation that it be distributed.

Cooper, a career member of the senior executive service, appears before the staff and members of the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees. She currently serves as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia at the Defense Department.

Cooper previously served as principal director in the office of the assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security affairs. She joined the Defense Department in 2001 and before that, worked at the State Department.

She's appearing before Congress Wednesday even though the Defense Department told Congress that it wouldn't comply with the impeachment inquiry.

Michael Duffey, a politically appointed official in the White House budget office, was also scheduled to testify behind closed doors Wednesday but is not expected to appear after Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Russell Vought announced that his office wouldn't cooperate with the probe.

Cooper's testimony comes a day after what Democrats described as bombshell testimony from Taylor, who serves as chargé d'affaires in Ukraine.

According to a copy of his opening statement provided to NBC News, Taylor said that E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland told him that while Trump was not requesting a "quid pro quo," he insisted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy publicly announce investigations into the Bidens and matters relating to the 2016 presidential election.

As Cooper's closed-door deposition kicked off Wednesday, a number of House Republicans — who don't sit on the committees questioning the Pentagon official — descended into the basement of the House Capitol Visitor's Center where the deposition is taking place and attempted to enter the room.

The GOP members were protesting Democrats' handling of the probe, arguing that the process was not fair to Republicans or the president.

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