Trump Put Ukraine Military Aid On Hold Just Days Before Phone Call

Just days before he repeatedly pressured the President of Ukraine to reopen a closed investigation involving the son of former Vice-President Biden, President Trump suspended military aid that had been authorized by Congress.

It’s been just over a week since we first learned that a whistleblower complaint filed with the Inspector General for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. In that time, as has been the case with similar controversies that have gripped the Trump Administration since the President took office, details have been dripping out on a daily basis. At first, the Administration denied than there had been any discussion of the alleged corruption involving former Vice-President Biden’s son Hunter. Then, the President may have discussed the matter but denied it was wrong to do so. Next, the story shifted to denying that there was any quid pro quo between reopening the investigation involving the younger Biden and gaining access to aid that had already been approved by Congress. Specifically, last week it was revealed that the President had brought up the Biden investigation in his conversation(s) with the Ukrainian President no fewer than eight times, something that the President himself seemingly admitted days later. Now, The New York Times and Washington Post are both reporting that President Trump ordered military aid authorized by Congress frozen just days before a controversial phone call with the President of Ukraine:

President Trump told his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to hold back almost $400 million in military aid for Ukraine at least a week before a phone call in which Trump is said to have pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate the son of former vice president Joe Biden, according to three senior administration officials.

Officials at the Office of Management and Budget relayed Trump’s order to the State Department and the Pentagon during an interagency meeting in mid-July, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. They explained that the president had “concerns” and wanted to analyze whether the money needed to be spent.

Administration officials were instructed to tell lawmakers that the delays were part of an “interagency process” but to give them no additional information — a pattern that continued for nearly two months, until the White House released the funds on the night of Sept. 11.

Trump’s order to withhold aid to Ukraine a week before his July 25 call with Volodymyr Zelensky is likely to raise questions about the motivation for his decision and fuel suspicions on Capitol Hill that Trump sought to leverage congressionally approved aid to damage a political rival. The revelation comes as lawmakers clash with the White House over a related whistleblower complaint made by an intelligence official alarmed by Trump’s actions — and as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is said to be exploring whether it’s time to allow impeachment proceedings.

Republican senators on the Senate Appropriations Committee said Sept. 12 that the aid to Ukraine had been held up while the Trump administration explored whether Zelensky, the country’s new president, was pro-Russian or pro-Western. They said the White House decided to release the aid after Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) threatened to freeze $5 billion in Pentagon funding for next year unless the money for 2019 was distributed.

One senior administration official said Monday that Trump’s decision to hold back the funds was based on his concerns about there being “a lot of corruption in Ukraine” and that the determination to release the money was motivated by the fiscal year’s looming close on Sept. 30.

There was concern within the administration that if they did not spend the money, they would run afoul of the law, this official said, noting that, eventually, Trump gave the OMB’s acting director, Russell Vought, permission to release the money. The official emphatically denied that there was any link between blocking the aid and pressing Zelensky into investigating the Bidens, stating: “It had nothing to do with a quid pro quo.”

But on Capitol Hill, Democrats were calling for an investigation of what they viewed as potential “extortion,” as Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.), the Foreign Relations Committee’s ranking Democrat, put it Monday. Trump, he said, is trying to “reshape American foreign policy” to advance his personal and political goals.

“I don’t think it really matters . . . whether the president explicitly told the Ukrainians that they wouldn’t get their security aid if they didn’t interfere in the 2020 elections,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “There is an implicit threat in every demand that a United States president makes of a foreign power. . . . That foreign country knows that if they don’t do it, there are likely to be consequences.”

To be sure, there are arguably legitimate reasons to be concerned about corruption in Ukraine leaving aside the controversy developing here in the United States. One of the issues that is involved in the entire, largely non-existent, Biden controversy is the fact that, as Vice-President, Joe Biden was among a number of other international leaders to put pressure on Petro Poroshenko, the former President of Ukraine, to fire the nation’s chief prosecutor, who was widely believed to be neck-deep in the corruption that continued to grip the nation long after its pro-Russian leadership was overthrown several years ago. When Poroshenko failed to take that action, Biden informed him that, per President Obama’s instructions, he would not be announcing the approval of an aid package for the nation and that such aid would be withheld until Poroshenko acted as the United States and the majority of our allies demanded. Additionally, it was ongoing corruption that led to Poroshenko’s defeat in favor of the current President, Volodymyr Zelensky, who until being elected was best known as a comedian who mocked Poroshenko and his government on television.

All that being said, the fact that the decision to suspend the aid was just days before a phone call in which the President repeatedly pressured President Zelensky to reopen an investigation that had been closed years ago after it was determined that there was no wrongdoing and that said investigation involves the son of a political rival is certainly suspicious. Even if President Trump did not formally say that there was a quid pro quo between reopening the investigation and releasing the military aid meant to protect Ukraine against an insurgency being supported and aided by Vladimir Putin, the implication of such a connection could not have been lost on the Ukrainian President. Additionally, even without an explicit or implicit quid pro quo it was obviously entirely improper for a sitting President facing re-election to be discussing the investigation that potentially involves the person who President Trump could end up facing off against in the 2020 election. Legalities aside, it is entirely inappropriate, something that ought to be thoroughly investigated by Congress, and an act that, in addition to everything else, is yet another potentially impeachable act committed by this President.

The only question at this point is when will enough be enough for the American people?

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Intelligence, Joe Biden, National Security, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. mattbernius says:

    The only question at this point is when will enough be enough for the American people?

    I think we’ve reached that point for moderate Dems at the very least.

    One communications issue with the Mueller report was that it was complex — lots of moving parts. This scandal (lets call it what it appears to be) on the other hand is bog simple — Trump directly asking for a foreign power to investigate the family of his (currently) chief political rival.

    That he did that after having his presidency threaten by past accusations of working with outside countries to influence his first election makes it even more egregious.

    Now, the Democrats need to work on not muddying the issue. The only thing that really matters here was the initial request. They cannot hang anything on whether or not Hunter Biden is innocent (he could be guilty as sin and that doesn’t change the request) or whether or not there was an explicit quip pro quo — there won’t not be, even in the transcript — remember Michael Cohen’s testimony that Trump always talks in code.

    All that Trumps supports have left are two options: minimization and whataboutism.

    I’m expecting to seeing a lot of that in the coming days.

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  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    The American people have been exhausted by Tiny and aren’t paying attention. To this point this is the usual left v. right argument, to which much of the country is also ignoring. What this scandal can be, is the one that does penetrate the consciousness of the populace as it is has clarity and can be summed up on a bumper sticker.

  3. Teve says:

    how the Watergate crisis eroded public support for Richard Nixon

    Yet, despite the increasingly negative views of Nixon at that time, most Americans continued to reject the notion that Nixon should leave office, according to Gallup. Just 26% thought he should be impeached and forced to resign, while 61% did not.

    A lot of key scandal events were to follow that year and into 1974, but public opinion about Watergate was slow to change further, despite the high drama of what was taking place. For example, October 1973 was a crucial month as the courts ruled that the president had to turn over his taped conversations to special prosecutor Archibald Cox, and subsequently Nixon ordered for the dismissal of Cox in what came to be known as the Saturday Night Massacre. The public reacted, but in a measured way. In November, Gallup showed the percentage of Americans thinking that the president should leave office jumping from 19% in June to 38%, but still, 51% did not support impeachment and an end to Nixon’s presidency.

  4. An Interested Party says:

    Looks like the dud of the Mueller Report gave somebody the idea that he could go even further with his outrages…ironic that, ultimately, the Mueller Report really does lead to impeachment, just not in the way people thought…

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  5. Teve says:

    Holy shit blind pig vs. acorn:

    Steve Doocy: “If the president said ‘I will give you the money but you’ve got to investigate Joe Biden,’ that is really off-the-rails wrong. But if it’s something else, you know, it would be nice to know what it is.”

    linky

    Kilmeade then promptly idiots-up the place and says the whistleblower just doesn’t like Trump and whatabout all of Obama’s transcripts….

  6. drj says:

    @Teve:

    Steve Doocy: “If the president said ‘I will give you the money but you’ve got to investigate Joe Biden,’ that is really off-the-rails wrong. But if it’s something else, you know, it would be nice to know what it is.”

    “But he didn’t explicitly say it, so it’s all good,” is going to be the next step.

    Doocy ain’t turning on Trump.

  7. Pylon says:

    Remember when “no collusion” was a good defence? Now it’s “Collusion – what’s the big deal?”

  8. mattbernius says:

    @Teve:
    Doocy said that because he’s a literal thinker. Again, there is no way that Trump would be that direct. He *might* have hinted at it. But, again to Michael Cohen’s point, he will never be that explicit. Roy Cohen taught him well.

    So, if/when a transcript is published, I guarantee that Doocy will look past any implied quib pro quos (and, again, whether or not an explicit or implicit quib pro quo existed DOES NOT MATTER) and normalize what Trump did.

    Kilmeade then promptly idiots-up the place and says the whistleblower just doesn’t like Trump and whatabout all of Obama’s transcripts….

    Another important point: thanks to Trump and Giuliani’s own *public statements* the whistleblower no longer really matters to the conversation. He/she might have learned about this via gossip, but the general story was confirmed by PoTUS.

    So don’t let that distraction trip us up either.

  9. Gromitt Gunn says:

    If I have learned anything from the four hours of ethics CPE I have complete every other year to keep my CPA license, it is that the appearance of impropriety is just as bad as impropriety itself when it comes to reputation. I don’t expect this to be the final straw for the 39%, but I do expect this to be one more thing to push the self-described Independents away from any remaining Trump support.

  10. Teve says:

    sure it’s terrible with or without a quid pro quo. I’m just amazed that Doocy even entertained the possibility that something could be wrong. It didn’t surprise me when kilmeade stepped in with the whatabout, because that is the stupidest deflection attempt an adult human can make.

    “Billy, did you break the lamp?”
    “Um last week Suzie kicked the dog!”

  11. michael reynolds says:

    Fascinating how little our trolls have had to say on this topic. Has Hannity failed to feed them a new line of bullsht to spread? Did they suffer whiplash from stoutly claiming ‘he didn’t do it!’ to ‘OK, he did it, but it’s great!’ all within the space of 24 hours?

    I wonder if it’s begun to penetrate their dim little brains that Trump has just confessed to doing with Ukraine what he’s been accused of doing with Russians. Are they able to reach the bleedingly obvious conclusion that this confirms that he is indeed #TraitorTrump? Are they struggling to figure out a way to say, ‘sure Trump colluded illegally with Ukrainians to try and win an election, but he’d never do exactly the same thing with Russians!’

    Cowardice is the essential defining characteristic of the Trumpaloon.

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  12. Kathy says:

    If it comes out that Dennison indeed held aid hostage in return for a bogus investigation on the Bidens, but then Biden doesn’t get the nomination, El Cheeto, and his supporters, will scream that it doesn’t matter if he made a corrupt bargain, since it was no use to him at all.

  13. Teve says:

    “Attempted treason? What even is that? Do they give a Nobel Prize for Attempted Chemistry?”

  14. Matt says:

    @mattbernius: OT I know but I’d like to get a response to you from the gun thread where we were discussing bumpstocks. You have fundamentally got it wrong on how they were banned and I’d like to get my full response to you. Is there an email address or discord name or something I could send my response to? Life has been very busy the last week and the thread was closed to commenting prior to my post attempt the other day.

  15. mattbernius says:

    FWIW, my congressman, freshman Joe Morelle (NY25 – strong Pelosi loyalist) just switch to a “Yes” on inquiry vote according to a staffer in his Rochester Office. I literally just got off the phone with them

    If that’s the case, then it most likely means that Pelosi is moving forward (either now or if PoTUS stonewalls).

  16. Joe says:

    The official emphatically denied that there was any link between blocking the aid and pressing Zelensky into investigating the Bidens, stating: “It had nothing to do with a quid pro quo.”

    Bwahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

    And just to remind everyone that I told you so. @Joe

  17. DrDaveT says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Are they struggling to figure out a way to say, ‘sure Trump colluded illegally with Ukrainians to try and win an election, but he’d never do exactly the same thing with Russians!’

    No, they’re struggling to figure out how best to phrase “Yes, he’s an idiot corrupt fascist traitor, but we still prefer him to the unthinkable horror of any Democratic president, especially a brown or female one, because we really are that morally bankrupt.”

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  18. Scott F. says:

    @mattbernius:

    Now, the Democrats need to work on not muddying the issue. The only thing that really matters here was the initial request. They cannot hang anything on whether or not Hunter Biden is innocent…

    You know that Biden and his son will be the front line for the GOP’s muddying efforts, so Democrats should not take any stand to that even appears to protect their interests – legal or political – regardless of the truth. I know that is a hardline to take for many, but if Biden has to take some serious hits to take out Trump, so be it.

  19. mattbernius says:

    @Matt:
    I responded to you in that thread, but you may have missed it:
    https://www.outsidethebeltway.com/democrats-clash-over-ideology-and-policy-in-third-presidential-debate/#comment-2449188

    I’d like to get a response to you from the gun thread where we were discussing bumpstocks. You have fundamentally got it wrong on how they were banned and I’d like to get my full response to you.

    My comment at the time:

    I’m aware of [the EO]. However, the problem is that these aren’t statutorily illegal or regulated. They are being regulated by fiat. Which, as we have seen, can be immediately reversed by another EO.

    Again, as a traditionalist, I don’t like seeing things regulated via EO as they can be overturned by the next admin…

  20. @mattbernius:

    or whether or not there was an explicit quip pro quo

    To quote Jonah Goldberg in his column yesterday: “Show of hands: If Biden weren’t running, would the president have brought up Biden eight times — or at all — with the Ukrainian president?”

    If he said “Biden” on that call, the whole thing is a slam-dunk as far as far as I am concerned.

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  21. @Steven L. Taylor: But I agree: the conversation should not be framed as about explicit quid pro quos.

    As I have stated elsewhere, when the US is on the phone with Ukraine, the whole thing is an implicit quid pro quo.

  22. mattbernius says:

    @mattbernius:
    Matt if you want to continue that conversation, we can move it to an Open Thread here. I’d prefer not to use discord or email — though thanks for offering that as an option.

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Agreed on all counts. But we’ve already seen that unless things are *explicit* (getting back to the Doocy comment) then they didn’t happen in the mind of the President’s defenders and that distracts from the core issue here.

  23. Gustopher says:

    @mattbernius:

    All that Trumps supports have left are two options: minimization and whataboutism.

    So, business as usual then?

  24. Matt says:

    @mattbernius: /facepalm….

    It’s impossible to respond in that thread.. I wouldn’t be doing this otherwise.

    Also they were NOT banned by an EO..

  25. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    But what is the right cocktail to have while celebrating the Impeachment announcement today at 5:00?

  26. mattbernius says:

    @Matt:

    It’s impossible to respond in that thread.. I wouldn’t be doing this otherwise.

    Oh, sorry about that, I miss read what you wrote. I thought you hadn’t seen my comment. It’s been a busy day on my end.

    Also they were NOT banned by an EO..

    You’re right. I was wrong. Thanks for the correction.

    They were banned by a regulatory change by the Department of Justice (at request of the President — that’s where I, incorrectly, got the entire EO thing into my head). You’re right, again I got the terminology/process wrong. But again, the point remains that this is a ban that could be reversed by a future shift in *administrative interpretation* of the statue (unless I’m mistaken).

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bump_stock#Federal

    I do see your point. Again, my bias is against handling these things through administrative law/fiat.

    Like I said, let’s continue the discussion in the next open thread.

  27. Matt says:

    @mattbernius:You’re still mistaken as it cannot just be changed on a whim and I explained why in the open forum post.

    EDIT: Amusingly I had already made the post in the open thread before you posted here..

  28. Kathy says:

    El Cheeto says a transcript of the call will be released.

    Would that it were that simple.

    1) He can easily release a transcript of another call.
    2) Even one of the right call might not be sufficient, one way or another, as several calls were involved. transcripts of all should be released.
    3) We can assume it will be redacted into irrelevance.
    4) It might be released on the same schedule as his tax returns, i.e someday.

  29. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Kathy:

    El Cheeto says a transcript of the call will be released.

    Obviously he is going to mark it up, before releasing it, with a Sharpie.

  30. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy: It also makes you wonder what is in the whistleblower complaint, if Trump is willing to release a transcript, but not the complaint…

  31. mattbernius says:

    @Matt:
    Thanks for the update Matt. I’ll read it there.

  32. mattbernius says:

    I’ll be repeating this when Doug, James, or Steven invariably posts on the topic, because this line is just too good not to share (or launch a thousand memes):

    Acyn Torabi (@Acyn):

    Call me skeptical but I’m not ready to believe transcripts released by a man who doctored a weather map with a sharpie

    https://twitter.com/Acyn/status/1176569352499298304

  33. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:
  34. mattbernius says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    Le sigh. Totally missed that. Credit where it’s due my man.

  35. Kathy says:

    And so it begins.

    Or in other words, Pelosi announces Impeachment Inquiry.

    ETA: also, the anonymous whistle blower’s attorney reportedly contacted the relevant House committee and said his client wants to testify.

  36. Joe says:

    @Gustopher, @Kathy:
    I assume the whistle blower complaint connects a couple of dots.

  37. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @DrDaveT: They just don’t have a new “but her emails!!!!” yet. That may be why “Ukraine!!!!!” is so important–THAT fits on a bumper sticker.

  38. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @mattbernius: Sorry, but I’ma still go with the only people who you can count on here is those who you know will check the box with “D” in it. If you don’t circle your own wagons, you won’t win. There’s nobody out there to “change the mind of” who isn’t a voter who will decide who to vote for after investing about 38 seconds of consideration. Everybody who is paying attention has already chosen their side.

  39. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: A new one–and not very tasty sounding at that–the Bloody Donald: Vodka and tomato juice with a splash of Diet Coke.