Pentagon No. 2 denies trying to block official's impeachment testimony

The No. 2 official at the Pentagon on Wednesday insisted he was not seeking to block the testimony of another senior Pentagon official when he sent her lawyer a letter outlining the Trump administration’s objections to the impeachment inquiry.

During an unrelated Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Pentagon’s recently completed audit, Democrats pushed Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist on protections the department is providing for witnesses in the impeachment inquiry.

Pressed by Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoSupreme Court poised to hear first major gun case in a decade Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Senate eyes sending stopgap spending bill back to House | Sondland delivers bombshell impeachment testimony | Pentagon deputy says he didn't try to block official's testimony Pentagon No. 2 denies trying to block official's impeachment testimony MORE (D-Hawaii) on a letter he sent to the lawyers for Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, ahead of her closed-door deposition last month, Norquist said he “did not prohibit her” from testifying

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“I forwarded to her lawyer the information we had received from the White House that expressed their views about the impeachment process,” Norquist said. “One of the challenges, we wouldn't be able to send a lawyer with her. I wanted her to have that available information.”

“We understand each of the individuals are making their own decision,” he added.

Cooper is scheduled to testify publicly before the House Intelligence Committee later Wednesday after testifying behind closed doors in October.

The Pentagon, like other departments in the executive branch, has defied subpoenas related to the impeachment inquiry following a White House counsel letter declaring the administration would not comply with the probe.

The day before Cooper’s closed-door testimony, Norquist sent her lawyer a letter highlighting the White House direction not to participate in the inquiry.

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At Wednesday’s Armed Services Committee hearing, Hirono told Norquist that the letter “does create a chilling effect.”

“My only point is I would have felt it inappropriate to not have the lawyer be aware of this information, and so that's why we shared it,” Norquist replied. “So what we tried to do is set the right tone in the letter.”

Democrats' use of the Pentagon audit hearing to press Norquist on protecting witnesses in the impeachment inquiry comes after Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law | Michigan governor seeks to pause Medicaid work requirements | New front in fight over Medicaid block grants House, Senate Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law Why a second Trump term and a Democratic Congress could be a nightmare scenario for the GOP MORE (D-N.Y.) sent the Pentagon a letter Monday on the same issue.

In addition to Cooper, Democrats have expressed concern about protections for Army Lt. Col. Alexander VindmanAlexander VindmanDirector of National Intelligence Maguire should stand for the whistleblower Adam Schiff's star rises with impeachment hearings Former GOP senator to Republicans: Trump subjected Ukraine leader to a 'shakedown' MORE, the National Security Council’s top Ukraine expert.

Vindman testified during Tuesday’s public impeachment hearing before the House Intelligence Committee. Ahead of the hearing, reports surfaced that the Army is prepared to move Vindman and his family to a secure location if they are found to be in danger due to his testimony.

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Pressed by Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael Kaine'Granite Express' flight to take staffers, journalists to NH after Iowa caucuses Overnight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Senate panel approves Trump FDA pick | Biden downplays Dem enthusiasm around 'Medicare for All' | Trump officials unveil program for free HIV prevention drugs for uninsured Trump's FDA nominee approved by Senate panel MORE (D-Va.) on those reports, Norquist would not discuss specific security measures.

“But we do take it very seriously, and we expect people to be responsive and truthful in their dealings with Congress,” Norquist added.

Kaine then urged Norquist to be “very diligent” in protecting members of the military cooperating with Congress.

“I think that your words delivered here should hopefully give some assurance and some confidence to some who are very, very worried,” Kaine said. “And I know they're worried because their families are calling my office. They're my constituents, and they're nervous about what might happen to them. You're giving them that assurance publicly. It means something to them.”