Senior members of the Trump administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and then–National Security Adviser John Bolton had agreed that U.S. security assistance funding to Ukraine should “continue as planned,” according to a new email from August released by the Department of Defense on Friday to American Oversight.
The August 26, 2019, email from a senior career Pentagon official states that there was “no ongoing interagency review process with respect to USAI [Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative],” and states clearly: “Final decision rests with POTUS.”
Critically, the email appears to contradict the White House budget office’s stated rationale for withholding the aid. In emails and formal apportionment “footnotes” beginning on July 25, 2019, Office of Management and Budget officials repeatedly told the Defense Department that the Ukraine aid freeze was necessary to allow for an “interagency process to determine the best use of such funds.” Administration officials had also been instructed to tell Congress that this was the reason for the delay of funding.
The August 2019 email is one of 238 pages released to American Oversight on Friday in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking records detailing the Trump administration’s withholding of military aid to pressure Ukraine to announce an investigation into presidential candidate Joe Biden. The records are available here.
This production is the tenth set of Ukraine-related records released to American Oversight and the third production of impeachment-related documents released by the Defense Department.
“Tonight’s document release is a reminder that before they lined up parrot the president’s line on Ukraine aid, senior members of the president’s national security team unanimously disagreed with his decision to withhold aid from Ukraine,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. “Honesty and the national interest succumbed to demands for blind loyalty. While the president’s allies in Congress engaged in catastrophic credulity in the face of facts, the president cannot outrun the truth or, ultimately, the judgment of the American people.”
The release also contained a number of emails that show the extent to which Defense Department official Elaine McCusker was dealing with the ongoing difficulty of OMB’s continual delaying of funds. Emails examined by Just Security earlier this month included a number of communications between McCusker and OMB Counsel Mark Paoletta about the Pentagon’s concerns over the legality of the aid freeze, which called into serious question Paoletta’s December representations to Congress that he hadn’t been aware of those concerns. In this batch of documents, a series of updates McCusker sent to Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist include statements that indicate her regular engagement with OMB on the matter.
One email to Norquist on Aug. 22, 2019, says, “Working through the complications of obligation restrictions placed on the USAI by OMB.” Three weeks later, McCusker wrote, “Continued to walk the line on all USAI execution related actions.”
Another email from Aug. 22, this one from a Pentagon lawyer to Paoletta, says, “Elaine McCusker asked that I contact you and underscore her ongoing discussions with Mike Duffy concerning DoD’s obligation of funding for the USAI.”
Other emails included in the production show questioning about the hold-up both from Ukrainians and from contractors relying on the aid.
See the complete documents below:
Part of Investigation: