Democrats want answers from Pentagon chief on withheld Ukraine aid

Democrats want answers from Pentagon chief on withheld Ukraine aid
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Top Senate Democrats are demanding Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOfficials say Trump to announce withdrawal of more than 4,000 troops from Afghanistan soon Trump greeted with cheers at 120th Army-Navy game Overnight Defense: Mattis downplays Afghanistan papers | 'We probably weren't that good at' nation building | Judiciary panel approves two impeachment articles | Stage set for House vote next week MORE provide information on what role the Pentagon played in the withholding of U.S. military aid to Ukraine earlier this year.

In a Tuesday letter, Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedGabbard calls for congressional inquiry over Afghanistan war report Gillibrand demands hearing following release of 'Afghanistan Papers' Republicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members MORE (D-R.I.) and Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee vice chairman Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSunday Talk Shows: Lawmakers look ahead to House vote on articles of impeachment, Senate trial Lawmakers introduce bill taxing e-cigarettes to pay for anti-vaping campaigns Senators zero in on shadowy court at center of IG report MORE (D-Ill.) sent Esper a list of questions about the actions that led to the holdup of $400 million in security assistance.

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They specifically want to know about the $250 million in Pentagon funds that Congress had approved for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. Defense officials in May notified Congress of its plans to send the aid to Ukraine, but in July the White House Office of Management and Budget ordered the Pentagon and State Department to withhold the money.

“The withholding of those funds raises serious concerns about the Department's management of security assistance and the Administration's compliance with its statutory obligations,” the senators wrote.

The decision to hold back the aid is the center of an impeachment inquiry backed by House Democrats over whether President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Trump rips Michigan Rep. Dingell after Fox News appearance: 'Really pathetic!' MORE used the aid in late July to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate 2020 presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenNew York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Graham invites Giuliani to testify about recent Ukraine trip Booker leads other 2020 Dems in petition urging DNC to change debate qualifications MORE.

The money was released in mid-September following congressional inquiries.

“We are deeply concerned that the Administration decided to delay execution of this critical military aid to Ukraine and failed to inform the committees of this decision or provide a reason for the delay,” Reed and Durbin wrote.

The senators said they want to know who directed the freeze and how it was communicated throughout the chain of command; whether anyone within the Pentagon raised concerns about the holdup and how such concerns were handled; and why the administration did not inform congressional oversight committees of the delay in a timely manner.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, is gathering, preserving and reviewing all documents and records related to the Ukrainian aid, under direction from Defense Department general counsel earlier this month.