Ukraine funding freeze ordered hours after Zelensky call

Newly released documents from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Pentagon provide further insight into the timeline regarding the White House’s freezing of congressionally approved aid to Ukraine.

A federal judge last month ordered the two agencies to hand over records regarding the withholding of military aid as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the Center for Public Integrity. The center published the documents late Friday and is in the midst of a lawsuit to have the documents unredacted.

According to the documents, shortly after President Trump’s now infamous July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, White House aides were tasked with halting the $391 million in military aid.

Trump’s phone call with Zelensky and the withholding of the aid are at the center of the impeachment proceedings that began in the House and will move to the Senate in the new year.

The documents contain emails sent by senior White House official Michael Duffey. Duffey, a Trump appointee, works through the OMB and is responsible for overseeing national security money.

“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,” Duffey wrote to OMB and Pentagon officials on July 25.

“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 added.

The freeze of the aid apparently raised eyebrows at the OMB and other government agencies, with many worried that the delay of aid would make it hard for the assistance to go through before Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

For example, Department of Defense Comptroller Elaine McCusker mentioned in a Sept. 5 email what she called an “increasing risk of execution.”

On Sept. 11, Duffey informed McCusker that the aid was being released. McCusker, through email, asked Duffey what caused the holdup. The first part of Duffey’s response is redacted, but he went on to say that he was “glad to have this behind us.”

Later that month, under pressure from House Democrats, Trump released a transcript of his call with Zelensky.

The transcript shows that the president asked Zelensky for a favor, mentioning a server from cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike in reference to a thoroughly debunked theory that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 general election.

Trump also mentioned Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, saying to Zelensky, “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.”

Hunter Biden was on the board of Kyiv-based oil company Burisma while his father served as vice president, but the theory that former Joe Biden acted in the interest of his son while in office has also been debunked.

Trump has repeatedly said that his phone call with Zelenksy was “perfect” and that the impeachment proceedings are a “witch hunt.”

This week, the House’s impeachment inquiry culminated in the passage of two articles of impeachment against the president: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The articles, which were passed largely along party lines, state that Trump abused the powers of the presidency by leveraging military aid to Ukraine for a personal political favor and later obstructed Congress by blocking White House officials who are thought to have firsthand knowledge of his dealings with Ukraine from testifying.

Now the proceedings move to the Senate for a trial, though the rules of the of the trial have not yet been set.

It is largely believed that Trump will be exonerated by the Senate, which has a Republican majority.

Trump is only the third president in American history to be impeached, joining former Presidents Andrew Johnson and Clinton. Former President Nixon resigned from office after the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach him but before the House could pass articles of impeachment.

Updated: 12:22 p.m.

Tags Bill Clinton Donald Trump Donald Trump Impeachment Elaine McCusker Joe Biden Michael Duffey Office of Management and Budget Office of Management and Budget Pentagon Ukraine aid Volodymyr Zelensky
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