Ukrainian official shoots down key GOP defense against Trump impeachment

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Ukraine's former deputy foreign minister says she knew about the withheld military aid as Donald Trump asked for investigations into his own political rivals.

A key Republican impeachment defense of Donald Trump took a hit Tuesday after a former high-ranking Ukrainian official admitted the country knew about the administration's hold on $400 million in military aid as Trump pushed for the country to investigate his political rivals.

"We had this information," Olena Zerkal, Ukraine's former deputy foreign minister said in an interview with the New York Times. "It was definitely mentioned there were some issues."

The House opened an impeachment investigation into Trump based in part on allegations that Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine to pressure leaders there to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.

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Trump and congressional Republicans have been making the argument for months now that Ukrainian officials did not know about frozen military aid in their efforts to defend Trump from impeachment.

On Nov. 17, Trump wrote that Ukrainian officials "didn't even know the money wasn't paid." In late October, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, declared, "The Ukrainians didn't know aid had been held up at the time of the phone call."

Jordan is referring to the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, during which Trump allegedly pressed for investigations.

While it is unclear exactly how early Ukrainians knew the aid had been frozen, Zerkal confirmed to the Times that it was much earlier than initial reports of late August. Zerkal said she knew of the aid freeze on July 30, long before Trump eventually released the aid in mid-September.

Zerkal's interview lines up with testimony given to Congress by Laura Cooper, a Trump administration defense official, who said Ukrainian officials knew about the military aid freeze as they were pressured by the Trump administration. Zerkal told the Times that Ukrainian officials have kept quiet about their knowledge to avoid being dragged into the ongoing impeachment proceedings.

According to the Times, Zerkal's statement marks the first time a Ukrainian official has publicly acknowledged the country knew about the hold on aid while Trump and his administration officials pressured the country to investigate Biden and the DNC.

Zerkal resigned from her post last week.

Other Republican defenses have been dismantled by evidence presented during the impeachment investigation. For example, Republicans repeatedly insisted that there was no evidence of a quid pro quo. However, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, a Trump appointee who previously donated $1 million to Trump's inaugural committee, testified there was absolutely a quid pro quo, adding, "Everybody knew what we were doing and why." Sondland said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence were "in the loop."

The House investigation wrapped up after two weeks of public testimony, and now the House Judiciary Committee will consider what, if any, articles of impeachment to present to the full House. If Trump is impeached, the Senate will hold a trial to determine whether or not to remove him from office. A supermajority of 67 senators is necessary to remove an impeached official from office.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.