The Trump administration froze aid to Ukraine just 91 minutes after the president got off the phone with Ukraine’s leader and asked for investigations into Joe Biden and the 2016 election, according to newly released emails.
‘Based on guidance I have received and in light of the Administration’s plan to review assistance to Ukraine, including the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, please hold off on any additional DoD obligations of these funds, pending direction from that process,’ Mike Duffey, the White House official in the Office of Management and Budget responsible for overseeing national security money and a Trump political appointee, wrote to OMB and Pentagon officials on July 25.
The email suggests Duffey knew that the request to freeze $391 million in assistance to Ukraine could be illegal since those funds were already approved by Congress and signed into law by President Trump.
‘Given the sensitive nature of the request, I appreciate your keeping that information closely held to those who need to know to execute direction,’ Duffey said.
Duffey is one of four witnesses that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wants to see testify in Trump’s impeachment trial before the Senate.
Trump administration officials froze aid to Ukraine less than two hours after President Trump asked Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky (seen left with Trump at the United Nations in September) to conduct investigations that would be politically beneficial to him, emails show
‘Based on guidance I have received and in light of the Administration’s plan to review assistance to Ukraine, including the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, please hold off on any additional DoD obligations of these funds, pending direction from that process,’ Mike Duffey, the White House official in the Office of Management and Budget responsible for overseeing national security money and a Trump political appointee, wrote to OMB and Pentagon officials on July 25
Duffey’s email was one of scores of internal correspondences and communications obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, which sued the Trump administration under the Freedom of Information Act.
A judge ordered OMB and the Pentagon to hand over the emails to CPI on Friday.
Most of the emails were redacted, but the documents do show that Duffey and other Trump administration officials responsible for carrying out the president’s orders may have been aware that what they were asked to do was illegal.
In September of last year and February of this year, Trump signed into law two spending bills that included a total of $391million in military assistance to Ukraine.
But in June of this year, Trump reportedly noticed a news item in the Washington Examiner which reported that the Pentagon was planning to send $250million in military equipment to Ukraine.
Ukraine was in desperate need of help from Washington because of a Russian-backed insurrection in the Donbas region in the eastern part of the country.
On the same day that the president saw the article, Duffey asked the Pentagon’s chief financial officer, Elaine McCusker, about the aid to Ukraine.
Duffey (above), a Trump political appointee, is a witness Democrats want to hear from in the Senate impeachment trial of Trump
‘The President has asked about this funding release, and I have been tasked to follow-up with someone over there to get more detail,’ Duffey wrote in an email to McCusker, whose official title was comptroller for the Department of Defense.
Trump then held up the funds. As the freeze dragged on, officials in his administration began worrying that they may be breaking the law by defying an act of Congress.
By law, the administration was required to spend funds appropriated by Congress. Any delay on the spending or withholding of the funds needed to be done with Congressional approval – something which the White House did not seek.
Mark Sandy, the deputy associate director for national security at OMB, testified before Congress that an unnamed lawyer and another official at the agency quit so as to avoid what appeared to them to be an illegal funding policy.
Others at OMB and the Pentagon tried to organize a campaign inside administration to lobby the president to release the aid to Ukraine.
According to the emails, Duffey told McCusker on September 11 that the aid to Ukraine would proceed.
‘Copy. What happened?’ McCusker asks.
The first line of Duffey’s response is redacted. He then writes that he hopes to authorize the release of the funds that same evening.
‘Glad to have this behind us,’ he writes.
Senator Chris Murphy, the Democrat from Connecticut, tweeted on Saturday that the revelations contained in the emails show that Trump’s staff ‘knew it was wrong’ and ‘kept it secret.’
Murphy’s Democratic colleague in the Senate, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, tweeted: ‘Seems big right?’
The emails indicate the concern shared by Trump administration officials, including Pentagon comptroller Elaine McCusker (seen left in February at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina), over the holdup of aid to Ukraine
Murphy replied: ‘Yes. Though frankly it’s just the 77th piece of evidence confirming the same thing: they held the aid to get political help and everybody knew it was totally illegal and wrong.’
A majority of lawmakers in the House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to impeach Trump on a charge of abusing his power by trying to pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.
Biden was vice president and point man for the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy when his son, Hunter, was given a position on the board of directors of a Ukrainian gas company whose owner was investigated for corruption.
Trump and his supporters allege that Joe Biden withheld funds from Ukraine as a ploy to force its government to fire a prosecutor who had been investigating the gas company, Burisma.
But Biden says that the prosecutor whose ouster he and other Western countries demanded was soft on corruption and that the aid which was withheld was tied to Kyiv’s commitment to root out wrongdoing.
Trump also believes an unproven conspiracy theory about Ukraine’s backing of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
He also believes Ukraine has an email server that contains proof that the hack of Democratic National Committee emails was staged in order to frame Russia and sabotage Trump’s chances of winning the 2016 election.
Ukraine was in desperate need of US military assistance because of the ongoing war against Russian-backed insurgents in the eastern part of the country. The image above shows a Ukrainian soldier shooting at a military drone in the Donetsk region in November
American intelligence and law enforcement agencies say there is no evidence to support these claims.
Trump on Saturday criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for holding off on sending the articles of impeachment against him to the Senate.
‘It’s so unfair,’ Trump said, days after he was impeached by the House, during a speech to conservative student group Turning Point USA, saying that Pelosi adopted the strategy because she has ‘no case.’
‘They are violating the Constitution,’ Trump said.
The Democratic-controlled House voted on December 18 to impeach Trump, setting the stage for a trial in the Senate.
Trump is very unlikely to be convicted and removed from office by the upper chamber of Congress because it is controlled by his Republican Party.
A two-thirds majority vote in the Senate is needed for a conviction on impeachment charges.
Republicans and Democrats are at loggerheads over how the trial will play out.
Pelosi and other Democrats want to call top Trump aides as witnesses and are seeking assurances that the trial will be held on terms they consider fair.
Pelosi has not yet sent the impeachment package to the Senate in a bid to increase pressure on Republicans there.
Pelosi has also not yet announced the managers, or prosecutors, who will present evidence in the trial.
‘Until the House gets a clearer picture of what a Senate trial will look like, the Speaker will not be in the position to appoint managers and take the next steps in holding this President accountable and ensuring the Senate fulfills its constitutional duty,’ Pelosi’s office said in a statement on Saturday.
Pelosi’s office said senators have a constitutional obligation to conduct a ‘fair process that provides both the Senators, who will act as jurors, and the public with the opportunity to understand the full extent of President Trump´s abuse of power.’