American diplomats told to play down release of aid to Ukraine: report

The Trump administration encouraged U.S. diplomats who pushed for the restoration of military aid to Ukraine to play down the money's release when it was approved, The New York Times reported Wednesday. 

Brad Freden, the State Department’s acting deputy assistant secretary overseeing issues in Europe and Eurasia, said in an email obtained by the Times that the National Security Council wouldn't publicly announce that $141 million in State Department aid was being restored after it was initially withheld. 

“Keep moving, people, nothing to see here …” Freden reportedly said in the Sept. 12 email, according to the Times. 

The emails show internal frustration with the freeze in aid that had already been approved by Congress. 

ADVERTISEMENT

"We realize the strain this puts on posts and your ability to conclude grants and carry out programs,” State Department Regional Assistance Coordinator James Kulikowski reportedly wrote in an Aug. 5 message.

“We currently await further guidance and will provide you with an update as soon as we know about next steps,” he reportedly added in the email to department employees, including diplomats in Kiev. 

Officials were told that the money was being released in a Sept. 12 email from the White House that was circulated within the State Department, the Times reported. 

“Apparently, and I don’t have full visibility, decision made last night,” Kulikowski reportedly wrote.

Freden then reportedly said Ukraine's government knew the funds would be released, but told State Department officials not to announce the matter.  

“Ukrainians are aware, but N.S.C. said that in the spirit of the ‘hold’ being a normal review, there will be no public announcement that it has been lifted,” he wrote, referring to the president’s National Security Council, according to the Times. 

Freden also advised William Taylor, the top U.S. envoy in Ukraine, to keep the release of the funds "low-key," according to the Times.

“In terms of public messaging, N.S.C. is deliberately treating both the hold and its lifting as administrative matters,” Freden reportedly told Taylor. “My advice is to keep your public messaging low-key as well.”

“Good advice — thanks,” Taylor reportedly responded. 

The aid to Ukraine is one of the central elements in Democrats' impeachment inquiry into President TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE, as Democrats are looking into whether the Trump administration withheld the aid in connection with President Trump's request that Ukraine look into Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Graham: 'Stupid' for Trump to ask China to investigate Biden Romney: Republicans don't criticize Trump because they fear it will help Warren MORE

Trump has denied wrongdoing regarding the aid, which was released, saying he held it up because he wanted other countries to contribute more to Ukraine and had concerns over corruption in that country.