A trove of documents has revealed that members of President Donald Trump’s administration engaged in an extensive effort to justify his holdup of American military aid to Ukraine over the summer, The Washington Post reported Sunday.
A confidential White House review of the decision found hundreds of documents showing that officials searched for ways to defend the president’s delay of the funds ― a central focus of the House impeachment probe ― according to three people with knowledge of the records.
The Post reported that email exchanges from early August indicate acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, along with members of the Office of Management and Budget, sought to explain why Trump ordered in mid-July that almost $400 million be withheld, just days before his now-infamous call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. During that call, Trump pressed Zelensky repeatedly for assistance with a corruption probe of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, based on unfounded corruption accusations.
At the time of the call, Trump had already hit pause on the aid, raising concerns that there may have been a quid pro quo with Zelensky. The money was released on Sept. 11.
People familiar with OMB’s handling of the matter told the Post that the conversations were “calm, routine and focused on the legal question of how to comply with the congressional Budget and Impoundment Act, which requires the executive branch to spend congressionally appropriated funds unless Congress agrees they can be rescinded,” the outlet reported.
As the documents included in the White House’s review were not published, it remains unclear exactly what was communicated by Mulvaney and OMB officials.
In October, Mulvaney acknowledged during a press conference that there was, in fact, a quid pro quo with Ukraine, telling reporters “we do that all the time with foreign policy” and that they should “get over it.”
Hours later, Mulvaney made a total reversal, releasing a statement slamming the media for attempting “to misconstrue my comments to advance a biased and political witch hunt against” the president, and claiming that “there was absolutely no quid pro quo.”
Earlier this month, Mark Sandy, a longtime OMB official, appeared before the House Intelligence Committee for closed-door testimony, making him the only member of the agency to participate in the impeachment inquiry so far.
Sandy told lawmakers that the delay in funds was very unusual and that senior OMB political appointees wanted to review the aid package, the Post reported.