World / Crime & Legal

Trump asked about Ukraine aid before July Zelenskiy call

by Daniel Flatley

Bloomberg

New documents show President Donald Trump asked about U.S. military aid to Ukraine a month before the call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that went on to trigger an impeachment investigation.

The heavily redacted emails, obtained under a freedom of information request by the Center for Public Integrity, also show that administration officials ordered a hold on the aid about an hour after the leaders’ call on July 25.

Trump asked about a June 19 article in the Washington Examiner newspaper referencing the aid. Michael Duffey, an official at the Office of Management and Budget, wrote to the Pentagon requesting more detail about the funding, according to an email from Duffey to the Pentagon comptroller.

“The President has asked about this funding release, and I have been tasked to follow-up with someone over there to get more detail.”

An email from Duffey to Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist on July 25, shortly after the Trump-Zelenskiy phone call, expressed uneasiness about the hold.

“Given the sensitive nature of the request, I appreciate your keeping that information closely held to those who need to know,” Duffey wrote.

The new documents “reveal how quickly the White House moved to cut off military aid to Ukraine,” Susan Smith Richardson, chief executive officer of the CPI, said in a statement on Saturday.

Duffey, an OMB official working on national security issues, is one of four witnesses Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has requested for the pending Senate trial of Trump on two articles of impeachment passed by the House of Representatives last week.

Schumer met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday to discuss the terms of a trial. The meeting ended in an impasse before Congress broke for the holidays.

Schumer “made clear to Sen. McConnell that the witnesses and documents are necessary to ensure a fair trial in the Senate,” spokesman Justin Goodman said. McConnell has been pushing for a process that likely won’t include any witnesses.

The other officials Schumer has requested are Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, John Bolton, the former national security adviser who left the administration in September, and Robert Blair, an adviser to Mulvaney.

The House adopted two articles of impeachment against Trump Wednesday following an investigation into allegations that the president withheld military aid from Ukraine in an effort to extract politically damaging information about a domestic political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

The historic votes Wednesday won the support of almost all Democrats in the House chamber but not a single Republican, leaving Trump as only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached.

Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, said Saturday on Twitter that the new documents, which CPI — a nonprofit investigative journalism organization — reported late Friday, show that the internal notes show Trump’s “direct involvement” in the matter.

Murphy later seemed to concede that the documents, while important, were just the latest piece of evidence in a monthslong inquiry spearheaded by House Democrats that still seems certain to end in Trump’s acquittal by the Republican-controlled Senate, some time in early 2020.

“Frankly it’s just the 77th piece of evidence confirming the same thing,” Murphy said in a reply to Sen. Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson said the new emails “don’t shed any new light” on the Ukraine matter.

“The president’s been very consistent in the explanation he gave to me in terms of why he had reservations about Ukraine, the generalized and endemic corruption,” Johnson said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

As the Senate gears up for an impeachment trial of Trump in January, the Wisconsin lawmaker said he would “support the president and the type of trial he wants.”

The comment echoed McConnell’s recent vow of “total coordination with the White House” on impeachment strategy, one that has enraged many Democrats.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, said Sunday that McConnell’s partisan approach to impeachment was “a serious problem.”

Americans are “looking for a fair trial, not a fake trial,” Klobuchar, a 2020 presidential hopeful, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

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