New documents produced in response to an American Oversight Freedom of Information Act suit provide further evidence that then-President Donald Trump was directly behind the decision to halt congressionally approved security assistance to Ukraine, the subject of his first impeachment.
Trump was impeached in December 2019 for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress after having frozen $400 million in military aid to Ukraine in an attempt to pressure the country to announce an investigation into then-presidential candidate Joe Biden. The Republican-controlled Senate acquitted Trump, but American Oversight has continued to uncover records that provide yet more evidence of Trump’s direct involvement in the decision to suspend military aid as well as the lack of a normal interagency process regarding that policy change — something the Office of Management and Budget had stated was the reason for the holdup.
The latest records include a prep sheet for Mike Duffey, a political appointee at OMB, in advance of an interagency meeting on July 26, 2019, “to discuss the President’s decision to halt assistance to Ukraine.” The prep sheet included a series of questions raised by withholding the aid, including whether the administration had the legal authority to withhold funds, and noted that the Defense Department might raise questions about potential violation of the Impoundment Control Act of 1974. Under that law, once funding is appropriated by Congress and the president signs the related spending bill, the executive branch must use it as directed. In January 2020, the Center for Public Integrity uncovered emails that revealed a top Defense Department official voicing concerns about the freeze’s illegality; later that month, the Government Accountability Office determined that the Trump administration had in fact violated the law.
The July 26 meeting took place one day after Trump’s famous “do us a favor” call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. During the meeting, according to congressional testimony by Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, the “national security community expressed unanimous support” for resuming Ukraine aid.
Emails between Duffey and then-White House official Robert Blair also included in the documents show the aid freeze had raised questions from multiple agencies ahead of that meeting. In an email sent on July 17, 2019, Duffey wrote that he had fielded inquiries about the withholding from the Defense Department, the National Security Council and the State Department — including “whether there is insight on [the] motive or duration” behind the freeze, “such as an intent to gain leverage for an upcoming engagement with Ukrainian leadership.”
Blair responded the next day, citing Trump’s role in the decision.
“On Ukraine assistance, the President wants all security assistance frozen,” he wrote. “We need to let that take hold and understand the implications of the freeze, and then see if he wants to revisit that decision.”
Last February, American Oversight obtained and published records from the Defense Department that similarly reflected Trump’s central role in the decision to withhold security assistance, including an Aug. 26, 2019, email from a senior career Pentagon official that stated that there was “no ongoing interagency review process” related to the freeze.
“Final decision rests with POTUS,” the official added.
For more information about American Oversight’s investigations into Trump’s abuses of power and the actions of his administration, please visit our Trump Accountability page.
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