Donald Trump was impeached this week — becoming only the third United States president to be hit with impeachment — over charges that he illegally held back much-needed, congressionally approved defense aid to Ukraine, because he wanted that country’s president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Democrat Joe Biden.
Trump and his Republican supporters in Congress have denied the claim, saying that the holdup in aid was unconnected to any “favor” Trump wanted from Zelensky. In his July 25 phone call with the Ukraine president, as shown in a partial transcript post by WhiteHouse.gov, Trump responded to a request for new aid by telling Zelensky, “I would like you to do us a favor though,” referring to the desired investigation of Biden.
On Saturday, The Center For Public Integrity released a set of internal Trump administration documents that contained what appears to be a bombshell revelation. The administration placed a hold on the $400 million package of military aid to Ukraine just 91 minutes after Trump got off the phone with Zelensky on July 25.
CPI obtained the documents under a court order, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
A July 25 email from Michael Duffey, a political appointee at the Office of Management and Budget, instructs Defense Department financial official David Norquist to “hold off on any additional DoD obligations of these funds.” That email is time-stamped at 11:04 a.m., according to the documents posted by CPI.
According to the White House transcript of Trump’s conversation with Zelensky, the two ended their phone call at 9:33 a.m.
The newly released documents also show that Trump was directly involved in the aid holdup. According to a June 19 email by Duffey, Trump noticed a news report about the aid to Ukraine and “asked about this funding release.” Duffey said that he had been “tasked to follow-up with someone over there to get more detail.”
The documents also show considerable anxiety among career officials within OMB, who worried that Trump’s order to hold back the aid was blatantly illegal. Under a federal law known as the Impoundment Control Act, once Congress has approved a release of funds, “a president cannot simply ignore Congress’s direction, no matter how inconvenient or unappealing that instruction might be,” according to the CPI report.
Funds can only be delayed with Congressional approval, and the reasons for the holdup must not be kept secret. But in the case of the Ukraine funds, according to the CPI report, OMB officials were never told the reasons for the Ukraine aid delay, and Trump obviously did not seek Congressional approval.
Officials inside OMB found Trump’s order to hold back the Ukraine aid so disturbing that two career officials simply quit their jobs rather than become involved in the scheme, budget official Mark Sandy testified to the House Intelligence Committee in the impeachment investigation last month.