September 26, 2019
Pentagon Letter Debunks Donald Trump's Claim About Why He Withheld Ukraine Military Aid

A letter from the Pentagon released for the first time on Wednesday appears to debunk Donald Trump's claim about why he withheld close to $400 million in military aid to Ukraine.

Trump's actions regarding Ukraine have become the subject of an impeachment inquiry launched by Congressional Democrats this week after a whistleblower complaint that the president tried to pressure the Ukrainian president into digging up dirt on Joe Biden's family. The White House released a summary of a phone call that Trump held with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump brought up the Ukrainian government working with Attorney General William Barr to investigate the business dealings of Hunter Biden, son of the former vice president.

Though reports indicated that Trump withheld the military aid in an attempt to pressure Ukraine into launching the investigation, the president on Monday suggested that he was wary of sending funds to what could have been a corrupt government in Ukraine. But NPR has now shared a previously unpublished letter from the Pentagon sent back in May which "certified" that Ukraine had taken sufficient steps to root out corruption, saying that the country would be eligible to receive the planned military aid.

"On behalf of the Secretary of Defense, and in coordination with the Secretary of State, I have certified that the Government of Ukraine has taken substantial actions to make defense institutional reforms for the purposes of decreasing corruption, increasing accountability, and sustaining improvements of combat capability enabled by U.S. assistance," wrote John Rood, the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy.

As Politico noted, Trump's excuse for delaying the military aid shifted later in the week, with the president now saying that he wanted other countries other than the United States to contribute. Trump has pushed back against the start of the formal impeachment inquiry, saying on Twitter that it is "presidential harassment" and accusing Democrats of leading a witch hunt against him, reviving a claim he made during the Russia investigation.

Ukraine has been locked in a military conflict with Russia for the last five years, since Russia annexed the Crimea region in 2014 in a move widely condemned by world leaders. Speaking to the U.N. General Assembly this week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy sought global support as he warned of the dangers of Russia's aggression in the region.

Critics say that the Trump administration was illegally withholding the whistleblower complaint from Congress, though the complaint was shared with members on Wednesday.