Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy Photographer: Evgeniy Maloletka/Bloomberg
Department lawyers found the White House lacked authority
The State Department decision, which hasn’t been reported previously, stemmed from a legal finding made earlier in the year, and conveyed in a classified memorandum to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. State Department lawyers found the White House Office of Management and Budget, and thus the president, had no legal standing to block spending of the Ukraine aid.
What they didn’t know, according to one of the people, was that shortly before Sept. 9, Bolton had relayed a message to the State Department that the funding could go ahead. It’s not clear whether Bolton, who resigned from the job a week later, did so with Trump’s approval.
Bolton’s handling of the funding struck officials in the White House as violating protocol and caught Mulvaney by surprise, according to another person familiar with the matter.
Around the same time in early September, State Department officials in charge of the money communicated to senior leaders there that they were running out of time and needed to spend the money. They got “top-level guidance” to spend it, according to two of the people.
Notice to Congress that the $141 million was being released was sent early on Sept. 11, hours before Trump said he personally made the decision to lift the freeze. All of those events undermine Trump’s account.