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Washington • Like most Americans, former Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah doesn't believe aliens have made contact with Earth, but he promises to keep an open mind as he participates in 30 hours of testimony in a mock hearing later this month.

The "Citizen Hearing on Disclosure" is organized and funded by the Paradigm Research Group, which insists the governments of the United States and other countries are hiding the truth.

"There are extraterrestrials here and the U.S. government's policy since the '40s has been not to acknowledge this," said Stephen Bassett, who asked Cook and four other former members of Congress to participate in the five-day pseudo-hearing at the National Press Club starting April 29.

"I simply want them to conduct themselves as if they were sitting in Congress and conduct a hearing that the Congress won't hold," he said.

Cook says he can do that, but don't expect him to become a believer just because Paradigm is paying him and taking care of travel expenses for him and his wife.

"I made it clear to them that I am unlikely to be persuaded," said Cook, who represented Utah's 2nd Congressional District for two terms starting in 1997. "Extraterrestrial life? I can buy into that as a possibility, but to this day I have not heard or read or seen anything that makes me believe that anyone has encountered one on Earth."

That said, Cook doesn't want to disparage anyone who believes they've seen an unidentified flying object, and he points out that a UFO is merely an unexplained aircraft, not necessarily evidence of life from a far-away planet.

"I never felt I witnessed one," he said. "I am what you might call an open-minded skeptic when it comes to these things. I don't want to imply that anybody has lied about what they think they have seen."

A National Geographic poll conducted in 2012 found that 36 percent of Americans believe in UFOS, 17 percent didn't believe and 50 percent were unsure. The poll didn't identify UFOs as being extraterrestrial.

Bassett hopes that the hearing, which will be webcast and later turned into a documentary, will convince the public, the media and the Congress of the existence of extraterrestrial contact.

The hearing, which will last six hours a day, will include more than 30 witnesses, some of whom are doctors, former members of the military and even ex-employees of NASA.

Cook is the only Republican participating so far. The other former members of Congress who will participate are Sen. Mike Gravel, D-Alaska, Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick, D-Mich., Rep. Darlene Hooley, D-Ore., and Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif.

Cook, who is a perennial candidate for public office in Utah, doesn't know why Bassett decided to invite him to participate.

"I have no idea," he said. "Maybe I'm just somebody who said yes to them."

Bassett said he sought former members who could participate in such a lengthy event and had served on committees such as Intelligence, Armed Services and Science. Cook was a member of the Science Committee and sat on the subcommittee on space.

And Bassett doesn't care what their views are on the existence of aliens and is not expecting them to take a vote or support his cause at the end of the hearing. He just wants a venue to lay out the evidence.

"There are extraterrestrials engaging us," Bassett said. "This is real and we are not fooling around."

Twitter: @mattcanham