The Center for Public Integrity has obtained a series of emails concerning the military assistance to Ukraine and Donald Trump’s involvement in putting that assistance on hold. Though heavily redacted, the emails indicate that Trump acted to make sure aid remained blocked on the same day he spoke with Zelensky, and that White House staff were very concerned by Trump’s actions to hold up assistance. Those emails show both that officials and diplomats “worried first that it would undermine U.S. national security” and that some were “worried that by defying a law ordering that the funds be spent within a defined period, Trump was asking the officials involved to take an action that was not merely unwise but flatly illegal.“
One of the first emails shows Office of Management and Budget official Michael Duffey following up on an article published by The Washington Examiner. Duffey makes it clear that he is following up on the article at the direct order of Trump. The article, published on June 19, spoke positively about the upcoming assistance. The Department of Defense cleared Ukraine of meeting obligations on both fighting corruption and supporting democracy on May 23, and sent a letter to Congress informing relevant committees of that approval, so it’s unsurprising that the Examiner wrote about the assistance as if were soon to be on its way. However, after Trump expressed interest in the article, no assistance was actually released by the OMB. It was thought that this was around the time that Trump put the assistance on hold, and DOD official Laura Cooper testified that her department was contacted several times by Ukrainian officials concerned about the lack of information.
Another email from Duffey paints an even more shocking picture. That email went to Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist on July 25, almost immediately after the call between Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky. In it he expressed concerns about Trump’s delaying assistance. “Given the sensitive nature of the request,” wrote Duffey, “I appreciate your keeping that information closely held to those who need to know.”
From the email, it seems that an official hold at the OMB may also date to July 25 — the same date that Cooper reported Ukrainian officials calling her office to ask why there was a delay. However, the biggest reason that Duffey seems to be concerned is that Trump has provided no reason for the delay and failed to notify Congress of his actions. This places the White House in violation of the Impoundment Control Act, a law that, according to CPI, “a president cannot simply ignore Congress’s direction, no matter how inconvenient or unappealing that instruction might be.” The Ukraine funds had been approved by Congress, signed by Trump, and cleared by the DOD, as provided for in the law. For Trump to hold them up, especially without telling Congress, was illegal.
Though Republicans during the hearing trotted out multiple reasons for the hold, the emails show that those excuses were all fabricated after the fact. Right up until the day Trump finally released the hold.
OMB director and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney earlier admitted that there had been some internal concern about the legality of Trump’s actions. But he dismissed those concerns as “one of those things that ... makes it look a lot worse than it really is.”
Duffey is one of four witnesses Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer requested for Trump’s Senate trial.
Published with permission from Daily Kos.