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.