Officials from the United States government have shed new light on the timeline around the holdup of foreign aid money at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, with one saying that Ukrainians had inquired about "issues" with the aid money weeks earlier than previously reported.
The timing is significant because President Donald Trump and allies have argued that his request for a "favor" during a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky could not have been part of a bribery scheme, as Democratic leaders have suggested, because Ukrainian officials were not aware of the delay.
During testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday evening, Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, said that her staff had received emails from the State Department saying that the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Ukrainian Embassy were aware of "the situation" with the aid money on July 25.
Those emails were received just hours after the call between Trump and Zelensky, which prompted a whistleblower complaint and launched the impeachment inquiry.
Cooper added that the emails focused "on the issue of Ukraine's knowledge of the hold or of Ukraine asking questions about the possible flow of assistance."
The first email said the Ukrainian Embassy and the House Foreign Affairs Committee were "asking about security assistance." The second email said that "the Hill knows about the FMF situation to an extent and so does the Ukrainian embassy," referring to the aid money.
Cooper said she was not aware of the two emails when she testified during closed-door hearings earlier in the inquiry, and added that her staff had alerted her to the emails after a transcript of the deposition became public.
She was testifying alongside David Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs at the State Department, who also shed new light on the timeline. Hale said that he had learned that the aid would be delayed on July 21, and that on July 26 he learned that the aid was being held up by the Office of Management and Budget "because the president had so directed" through acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
"You are now, Miss Cooper, the third witness before a committee who testified that the Ukrainians found out about a problem or hold on the security assistance prior to becoming public," said Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee. "You're the first to indicate that may go back as early as the date of the president's call to President Zelensky."
Cooper and Hale testified after the committee heard testimony from Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, earlier on Wednesday. In his testimony, Sondland said that Trump, through Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer working for the president, explicitly ordered a specific "quid pro quo" deal with Ukraine to get the country to investigate Joe Biden and the 2016 presidential election in exchange for public support from the US.