The Defense Department has begun reviewing thousands of documents related to military aid to Ukraine and whether it was withheld pending an investigation by that country into Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden’s son.
That review will parse out which Pentagon documents will be sent to the House Oversight Committee, which will have to be released by other agencies and, a senior Defense Official told reporters Wednesday, which will fall under executive privilege, at the White House’s discretion.
“Every document that we have that is potentially responsive to a request from Congress goes through the same review,” the official said.
The official would not answer questions about whether DoD intends to ultimately comply with the House subpoena that kicked off the review, or whether the department itself believes that the impeachment inquiry is constitutional.
The official repeatedly referred reporters to an Oct. 8 letter from the the president’s White House counsel disavowing the investigation.
“Your inquiry is constitutionally invalid and a violation of due process,” Pat Cipollone wrote in the letter to House Democrats. “In the history of our Nation, the House of Representatives has never attempted to launch an impeachment inquiry against the President without a majority of the House taking political accountability for that decision by voting to authorize such a dramatic constitutional step.”
The background briefing came as Laura Cooper, deputy assistant defense secretary for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, had her closed Capitol Hill deposition stormed by House Republicans, shutting down the interview and forcing officials to clear the secured area, known as a sensitive compartmented information facility, after they brought in the mobile devices.
Cooper, the Defense official said, has not been working with Pentagon counsel to prepare her testimony, instead choosing to retain her own attorney.
“We don’t have any information, because we haven’t been in the room,” the official said on what knowledge Cooper had of the White House pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden.
The subpoena from the House Oversight Committee came as a bit of a shock, the official said, as the Pentagon hasn’t received such an order since 2007.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued a memo in early October ordering all department employees to preserve any documents or correspondence in support of the investigation.
“If the department gets a request from Congress, we have always accommodated those requests,” the official said. “Period.”
But there are no guarantees that all of the documents will make their way to the hill, the official added after further questioning.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.