White House stresses 'hearsay' in witness testimony ahead of public impeachment hearings

The White House is seeking to undercut the accounts of three witnesses who have testified in the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, attacking their claims about President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 MORE's contacts with Ukraine ahead of this week’s public hearings.

In an email sent Tuesday morning to GOP congressional offices, the White House claimed that the testimonies of top Defense official Laura Cooper as well as Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson, two onetime assistants to former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerPush to investigate Bidens sets up potential for Senate turf war Senate confirms Brouillette to replace Perry as Energy secretary How Democrats' missing witnesses could fill in the Ukraine story MORE, "were filled with hearsay." 

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Democrats had released the transcripts of their testimonies on Monday.

Among the "topline takeaways" the White House put forward was the claim that all three witnesses "based everything on second, third, and fourth hand information,” arguing that none of them were on the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

The White House in particular sought to challenge the claims made by Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, who expressed her dismay over the summer’s delay of nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine, painting a portrait of a Pentagon doing battle with the White House over the release of funding deemed “vital” to national security.

Cooper said she had a "very strong inference" that Kyiv knew the aid was being withheld after having conversations with Volker and William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine who is slated to testify in Democrats' first public hearing on Wednesday.

"The conversation with Ambassador Volker, because it related to the security assistance needing to be lifted and the importance of that, and he was relating conversations he had had with Ukraine officials. It could have been my inference, yes, a very strong inference that there was some knowledge on the part of the Ukrainians," Cooper testified.

The White House is characterizing her perspective as being unfounded.

"Cooper’s comments about when Ukraine knew about the aid being withheld were conjecture based on information she heard from others," the talking points memo reads. "Cooper’s conjecture about when Ukraine knew about the aid being withheld was based on hearsay – and even then she couldn’t recall specifics.”

The White House also claimed that Cooper "testified that she wasn’t on the call with Zelensky and doesn’t have direct knowledge about the call" beyond the summarized readout the White House released earlier this year.

But the talking point appears to undercut the argument Republicans are using in claiming that summary of the call is evidence that the president did not explicitly use the aid as a quid pro quo. Congressional Republicans also did not participate on this call.

The White House hammered the point that Taylor in his testimony said Ukraine did not know the aid was being withheld until late August, despite him testifying that it was "my clear understanding” that the aid was contingent on Zelensky pursuing an investigation into former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats seek leverage for trial Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE, one of Trump's 2020 political rivals.

Yet, Croft has challenged this claim, with her telling House investigators that Kyiv knew the aid was being withheld earlier than previously known. 

In her closed-door testimony last month, Croft told House investigators that officials at the Ukrainian Embassy approached her two separate times to privately inquire about the decision to withhold aid, stating that these contacts occurred sometime after July 18 and before Aug. 28, when Politico reported the hold.

“They found out very early on, or much earlier than I expected them to,” she told investigators on Oct. 30.

The White House sought to challenge Croft's testimony by saying that she did not have firsthand knowledge of the July 25 call.

And in terms of Anderson, who was Croft's predecessor, the White House also noted he was not on the July 25 phone call. 

But the memo sought to twist Anderson's words, claiming he said “the issue of investigations never came up in discussions over Zelensky coming to the White House."

Anderson testified that while the specific investigations were not explicitly identified in July 18 meeting with Taylor, who was talking about "the need to avoid specific investigations," the former Volker deputy testified that he was aware that Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Horowitz offers troubling picture of FBI's Trump campaign probe Horowitz: 'Very concerned' about FBI leaks to Giuliani MORE, was pushing Ukraine to initiate these two investigations.