- President Donald Trump instructed a top White House official to withhold roughly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine prior to a controversial phone call on July 25 with its newly-elected president, The Washington Post reported on Monday.
- Trump told acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to hold the funds, which the US has historically provided in light of ongoing conflicts with pro-Russian separatists.
- Officials informed congressional leaders that the two-month pause was due to an “interagency process,” The Post reported.
- Trump has denied holding up the funds to pressure Zelensky’s government to investigate Biden. But he acknowledged on Monday that the aid package was on his mind during the July 25 phone call.
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President Donald Trump instructed a top White House official to withhold roughly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine prior to a controversial phone call with its newly-elected president, according to a Washington Post report on Monday.
Trump told acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to hold the funds — which the US has historically provided in light of ongoing conflicts with pro-Russian separatists — for at least a week before the call in July, three officials said to The Post.
The funds, which will provide Ukraine with military-grade weapons, were eventually released on September 11.
Officials from the Office of Management and Budget, which Mulvaney still leads, explained to the US State Department and Defense Department that Trump had “concerns” over the funds, The Post reported. They reportedly informed congressional leaders that the 2-month long pause was due to an “interagency process.”
The delay in sending the aid package attracted scrutiny amid reports of a whistleblower complaint lodged against Trump that centers around a July 25 phone call he had with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump is said to have made a “promise” to Zelensky during the call, but it’s unclear what the promise was.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that during the phone call, Trump pressed Zelensky at least eight times to work with his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, over their dealings in Ukraine.
Hunter Biden sat on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian gas extraction company from 2014 to early this year. Trump and Giuliani alleged that Joe Biden tried to stymie a criminal investigation into Burisma in 2016 by pushing the Ukrainian government to fire the prosecutor general leading the probe, Viktor Shokin.
But there’s a loophole in those claims. Government officials and Ukrainian anticorruption advocates say Shokin had hampered the investigation into Burisma long before Biden even stepped into the picture, according to The Journal.
In other words, Biden was doing the opposite of what Trump and Giuliani are implying: He was trying to oust a prosecutor who was slow-walking the investigation into Burisma, rather than actively targeting the company.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Trump admitted he had spoken to Zelensky in July, and that the call was a “congratulatory” one centered on Zelensky’s election victory in May. The US president also noted he had raised corruption issues with Zelensky and used the unconfirmed allegations against Biden as an example.
Democrats have since renewed calls for Trump’s impeachment and accused him of using his position to gain an edge ahead of the 2020 presidential election. House Democratic leaders are scheduled to hold several meetings on Tuesday to discuss whether the party will issue a formal condemnation against Trump’s actions.
Trump denied suggestions that he told the Ukrainians that the funds were conditioned upon investigating Biden.
But he appeared to acknowledge on Monday that the aid package was at least somewhat on his mind during the call with Zelensky.
“It’s very important to talk about corruption,” Trump said. “If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt? It’s very important that on occasion, you speak to somebody about corruption.”
Earlier this year, Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine’s prosecutor general at the time, said he had no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe or Hunter Biden.
“I do not want Ukraine to again be the subject of US presidential elections,” Lutsenko said. “Hunter Biden did not violate any Ukrainian laws … at least as of now, we do not see any wrongdoing.”