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Trump admin releases trove of documents on Ukrainian military aid

The White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) late Tuesday released a cache of nearly 200 documents related to officials’ discussions surrounding the withholding of military aid to Ukraine.

The documents — which were released just before midnight in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by American Oversight, a watchdog group — featured a host of communications between senior White House official Michael Duffey and other OMB aides, including Mark Sandy and Paul Denaro. Emails from acting OMB Director Russell Vought are also included in the documents.

The records, which are heavily redacted, include a flurry of emails between officials in late June after the Washington Examiner published a story about the Defense Department’s plans to send $250 million in security aid to Ukraine.

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Files also show that OMB officials shared a “Ukraine Prep Memo” on July 24 with Duffey, a political appointee who played a role in Trump's move to freeze the aid.

"We will be standing by to answer any questions that you have and are happy to schedule time to discuss if you like," OMB official Paul Denaro wrote to Duffey in an email sent just a day ahead of Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

That phone call, in which Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate unfounded 2016 election interference allegations, as well as former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden holds massive cash advantage over Trump ahead of Election Day Tax records show Trump maintains a Chinese bank account: NYT Trump plays video of Biden, Harris talking about fracking at Pennsylvania rally MORE and his son Hunter, is at the center of the Democrats' impeachment efforts against Trump.

Emails appear to indicate that the general council’s office had prepared a footnote for budget officials ahead of the July 25 phone call. Duffey asked Sandy that day about the footnote, which is a device used to freeze funding.

Sandy shared what he called a “revised footnote” in response. Duffey’s reply, while heavily redacted, concludes with: "Please copy me on the email to DOD."

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CNN noted that the correspondence seemed to indicate that the next step was for officials to notify the Pentagon of the aid freeze. Emails show that Duffey also asked to meet with OMB general counsel Mark Paoletta to discuss the "Ukraine topic" the morning of the call.

American Oversight said that “additional emails through the summer and early fall, when Pentagon official Elaine McCusker was raising concerns about the legality of the freeze, are heavily redacted.”

The release of records came the same day that Senate Republicans’ repeatedly rejected Democrats’ efforts to compel the Trump administration to hand over documents related to the delayed Ukraine aid during the impeachment trial. Democrats introduced four amendments to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: McConnell says he would give Trump-backed coronavirus deal a Senate vote | Pelosi, Mnuchin see progress, but no breakthrough | Trump, House lawyers return to court in fight over financial records Progress, but no breakthrough, on coronavirus relief LGBTQ voters must show up at the polls, or risk losing progress MORE’s (R-Ky.) resolution outlining the rules for the trial. They were all tabled in party-line, 53-47 votes.

The Trump administration has so far refused to turn over documents to the House, claiming that it is immune from subpoenas from Congress.

"Despite the Trump Administration’s obstruction and the rhetoric at the trial, the public can now see even more evidence of the president’s corrupt scheme as it unfolded in real-time," Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, said in a statement. "The volume of material released, and the volume of material still secreted away only highlights how much the administration has withheld from the House, the Senate, and the American public.”

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The House in December voted to impeach Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress following an investigation into his dealings with Ukraine. Trump is accused of using nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine as a source of leverage in his push for investigations into his political rivals. 

The Government Accountability Office said in a report released last week that the administration violated the law by withholding the release of congressionally approved funds. The independent watchdog concluded that the funds were withheld to advance the president's own agenda, thus making it a violation of  the Impoundment Control Act.

Vought dismissed the findings, saying in a tweet last week that the administration "complied with the law at every step."

Multiple news reports and email disclosures in recent months have offered a clearer picture of the Trump administration's dealings with respect to Ukrainian military aid. A cache of records released in December showed that White House aides were tasked with freezing the aid shortly after Trump's call with Zelensky.

The New York Times also published a story later that month detailing some of the discussions White House aides had about the aid. Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSchumer says he had 'serious talk' with Feinstein, declines to comment on Judiciary role Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein Trump to lift Sudan terror sponsor designation MORE (D-N.Y.) has said that the revelations made the "strongest case yet for a Senate trial to include the witnesses and documents we have requested."