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Bolton Circumvented Mulvaney To Release Ukraine Aid After Federal Lawyers Said Trump Freeze Was Illegal

Trump claims he released the aid to Ukraine on Sept. 11th, but according to reporting by Bloomberg, the State Department freed $141 million several days earlier, after their lawyers determined the president had no legal standing to withhold the money.
Bolton Circumvented Mulvaney To Release Ukraine Aid After Federal Lawyers Said Trump Freeze Was Illegal
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According to a recent report by Bloomberg News, it appears John Bolton and the State Department defied the White House and released $141 million of the aid to Ukraine just prior to Bolton's departure from the NSC: State Department Freed Ukraine Money Before Trump Says He Did:

President Donald Trump says he lifted his freeze on aid to Ukraine on Sept. 11, but the State Department had quietly authorized releasing $141 million of the money several days earlier, according to five people familiar with the matter.

The State Department decision, which hasn’t been reported previously, stemmed from a legal finding made earlier in the year, and conveyed in a classified memorandum to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. State Department lawyers found the White House Office of Management and Budget, and thus the president, had no legal standing to block spending of the Ukraine aid.

[...]

The freeze on funds Ukraine sought for its continuing war against Russia-backed separatists was opposed by many in the administration. Alexander Vindman, director of European affairs on the National Security Council, has testified that he understood Pompeo, then-National Security Advisor John Bolton and Defense Secretary Mark Esper all recommended releasing the funds in an Aug. 15 meeting with Trump.

The OMB has argued all along that the congressional notification by the State Department was only one step and it still had the power to hold the money after it was sent because of its authority to apportion -- or distribute -- the funds.

The freeze on the funds was illegal, and there doesn't have to be a quid pro quo for that to be the case, but this latest revelation blows another hole in that talking point that we've heard repeatedly from Republicans trying to defend Trump:

The information severely undercuts Trump’s insistence that there was no military aid quid pro quo when he pressed Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in a July phone call to launch a groundless investigation into his political rival Joe Biden and his son. Trump has pointed to the fact that he released the aid before a probe was begun. But Bloomberg now reports that he was no longer in control of disbursement when the money was released.

Officials have testified before House lawmakers that the aid — amounting to a total of some $400 million — was linked to Zelensky bowing to Trump’s demands. The New York Times has reported that Zelensky had already scheduled an interview on CNN in September to announce the launch of the investigation — even though he was opposed to it — in order to obtain the much needed funding. When the money was released, Zelensky quickly dropped the CNN appearance and did not begin a probe, according to the Times.

The OMB — headed by Mick Mulvaney, who is also the acting White House chief of staff — continues to argue that distribution of the funds, which had been approved by Congress, was up to the agency. “At no point was this pause inappropriate, let alone illegal,” OMB spokeswoman Rachel Semmel told Bloomberg Saturday.

Officials supporting Ukraine feared that if the money was not disbursed by September 30, the end of the fiscal year, it would likely no longer be available.

Trump has claimed he was the one who decided to release the money after a plea from GOP Ohio Sen. Rob Portman. “He called up, ‘Please let the money go,’” Trump said.

Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor testified that it was the legal offices at the both the State and Defense departments that decided they were “going to move forward with this assistance — OMB notwithstanding.”

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