When a group of his top cabinet officials met with Donald Trump in August and tried to persuade him to lift an illegal hold on military aid to Ukraine, they received a cold shoulder. In fact, Trump told them, the United States was “p*ssing away our money” by sending aid to the county which is currently in the throes of a five-year border war with Russia. Those allegations were reported in a blockbuster New York Times investigative report published on Sunday, which also reported that Trump had personally ordered the nearly $400 million in aid be held back on June 19.
The Times reported that Trump appeared to make the decision after the conservative news site Washington Examiner published an article detailing the $1.5 billion in security aid the U.S. had provided to Ukraine since 2014, when a popular uprising in the country ousted pro-Russian political strongman Viktor Yanukovich.
The personal entreaties to lift the aid came from then-National Security Advisor John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, according to the Times. The outlet based its reporting on “interviews with dozens of current and former administration officials, congressional aides and others,” as well as previously unreleased documents and emails, and testimony transcripts from the House impeachment inquiry.
In the August meeting, as reported by The Times, Bolton and Esper told Trump that providing aid to Ukraine was in the United States’ interest and that the U.S. received positive benefits from its security relationship with the country. But the Times‘ sources quoted Trump dismissing their arguments and calling Ukraine a “corrupt country.”
Former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker also testified to the House Intelligence Committee during the impeachment hearings that Trump called Ukraine a “corrupt country” filled with “terrible people.” Those people, Trump believed, “tried to take me down,” Volker testified.
In a Washington Post last week, the origin of Trump’s apparent animosity toward Ukraine was traced to Russian President Vladimir Putin himself.
When one White House aide, according to The Post, asked him why he believed that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 presidential election, Trump replied, “Putin told me.” Trump also believed that Ukraine’s purported election intervention was carried out in support of Democrat Hillary Clinton. But three major federal investigations have concluded that it was Russia who interfered in 2016 with the aim of helping Trump win the election.
According to the New York Times investigation, Trump suddenly changed course and allowed the Ukraine aid to be released only after a detailed whistleblower report became public, claiming that Trump was using the aid holdback for his own political purposes.