White House withdraws nomination for Pentagon budget chief who questioned Ukraine aid hold

White House withdraws nomination for Pentagon budget chief who questioned Ukraine aid hold
© Greg Nash

The White House has formally withdrawn its nomination for Pentagon budget chief after the nominee questioned President TrumpDonald John TrumpSessions accepts 'Fox News Sunday' invitation to debate, Tuberville declines Priest among those police cleared from St. John's Church patio for Trump visit Trump criticizes CNN on split-screen audio of Rose Garden address, protesters clashing with police MORE’s hold on Ukraine military aid that was at the center of the president’s impeachment.

Two Senate aides confirmed to The Hill Monday afternoon that Elaine McCusker’s nomination to be Pentagon comptroller has been withdrawn, news that was first reported by Politico. The White House sent a notice confirming the withdrawal later in the evening.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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McCusker has been acting comptroller since the summer and was officially nominated to the position in November.

Her role as acting comptroller put her in the center of Trump’s decision to withhold $250 million in military aid to Ukraine, a decision that ultimately led to his impeachment. 

In emails published by Just Security after a Freedom of Information Act request, McCusker expressed concerns about the legality of withholding the funds.

One exchange showed her at odds with White House Office of Management and Budget official Michael Duffey. When Duffey told her that it would be the Pentagon’s fault, not the White House’s, if funds weren’t spent by the legally mandated deadline, McCusker replied: “You can’t be serious. I am speechless.”

The Government Accountability Office later determined that withholding the aid violated the law. 

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The Senate acquitted Trump last month on charges that he abused his power and obstructed Congress.

The New York Post reported last month that McCusker’s nomination was in trouble over the Ukraine row. At the time, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeBipartisan Senate panel leaders back fund to deter China The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Major space launch today; Trump feuds with Twitter Justice Department closing stock investigations into Loeffler, Inhofe, Feinstein MORE (R-Okla.) dismissed the report, saying the White House and Pentagon hadn’t told him of a change in the nomination and that he didn’t plan to follow up on an anonymously sourced report.

On Monday Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedBipartisan Senate panel leaders back fund to deter China The Hill's Coronavirus Report: National Portrait Gallery's Kim Sajet says this era rewiring people's relationship with culture, art; Trump's war with Twitter heats up Overnight Defense: Trump to withdraw US from Open Skies Treaty | Pentagon drops ban on recruits who had virus | FBI says Corpus Christi shooting terror-related MORE (D-R.I.), the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, in a statement said McCusker was "another casualty of the Trump Administration’s efforts to purge public servants who put country before fealty to the President."

"The termination of her nomination is collateral damage by a President who has vindictively purged career national security professionals caught up in the impeachment inquiry. Ms. McCusker is a dedicated civil servant with decades of experience at the Department of Defense," he added.

McCusker’s withdrawn nomination is the latest personnel shakeup following Trump’s acquittal.

Lt. Col. Alexander VindmanAlexander VindmanTrump pick for pandemic response watchdog pledges independence amid Democratic skepticism Federal officials fired by Trump face tough road in court Trump takes heat for firing intel watchdog during pandemic MORE, who testified in the House’s impeachment inquiry, and his twin brother, who did not, were removed from their jobs on the National Security Council months ahead of schedule.

Trump also recalled U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon SondlandGordon SondlandTop Democrat slams Trump's new EU envoy: Not 'a political donor's part-time job' Trump names new EU envoy, filling post left vacant by impeachment witness Sondland Ocasio-Cortez: Republicans are prioritizing big chains in coronavirus relief  MORE, who also testified.

At the Pentagon, policy chief John Rood submitted his resignation at Trump’s request. Rood had certified that Ukraine had taken necessary anti-corruption steps to merit giving them $250 million, undercutting Trump's later argument that he held up the aid over concerns about corruption. Rood also reportedly clashed with the administration on several other fronts.