WASHINGTON — A Defense Department official who testified in the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump did so in defiance of the Pentagon, which told her not to cooperate.
A letter to Laura Cooper's attorney obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday cites an administration-wide policy against participating in the impeachment probe.
The directive underscores Trump administration efforts to discourage or prevent some executive branch employees from cooperating with House Democrats, who are investigating Trump's prodding of his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden. The administration this month blocked Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, from testifying, though he ultimately did so under subpoena.
The letter cites concerns about whether the House is authorized to conduct an impeachment inquiry without a formal vote and about what it says is a "blanket refusal" to permit Defense Department lawyers from being present for the interviews. Excluding department lawyers, the letter says, "violates settled practice and may jeopardize future accommodation."
"To reiterate, the Department respects the oversight role of Congress and stands ready to work with the Committees should there be an appropriate resolution of outstanding legal issues," reads the Defense Department letter to Cooper's lawyer, Daniel Levin.
But, it adds, "Any such resolution would have to consider the constitutional prerogatives and confidentiality interests of the co-equal Executive Branch ... and ensure fundamental fairness to any Executive Branch employees involved in this process, including Ms. Cooper."
Several witnesses, including Cooper, have appeared for closed-door interviews after receiving subpoenas from the House.
Cooper, who oversees Ukraine policy at the Defense Department, had to wait hours for her interview to begin on Wednesday after Republicans stormed the secure room being used for depositions. The act of protest brought the proceedings to a halt. The interview began about five hours late and ended after roughly four hours.
The New York Times was the first to report on the letter.