Newly released documents have revealed details about how and when White House officials sought to suspend military aid to Ukraine as part of President Trump’s effort to pressure Ukraine into launching an investigation that would be politically beneficial to Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. Just 91 minutes after Trump’s infamous July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, an Office of Management and Budget official sent an email asking the Pentagon to “please hold off on” sending military aid to the country, according to documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity after it won a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Defense Department.
Mike Duffey, a former Wisconsin GOP chair who Trump appointed to run the OMB’s national security division, also indicated in the July 25 email that he wanted to conceal the hold. He noted the “sensitive nature” of the aid freeze and emphasized that it should be “closely held to those who need to know.” The block — of hundreds of millions of dollars in Congress-appropriated aid — was never announced, and the Defense Department redacted passages in later messages about the rationale. Despite those redactions, the messages — and the congressional testimony of OMB official Mark Sandy — indicated that career officials in the agency were both confused by the freeze and much more concerned about its potential illegality than Trump’s political appointees were.
An OMB spokesperson sought to downplay the significance of the email over the weekend, insisting in a statement that it was “reckless to tie the hold of funds to the [Trump-Zelenksy] call.” The OMB also highlighted earlier reporting and testimony indicating the aid was frozen on July 18. And an anonymous Trump administration official told the New York Times that the timing of the OMB email was a coincidence and the need for secrecy was routine.
The July 18 order was held up thanks to legality questions. A temporary hold on the aid was then ordered on the evening of July 25 — after Duffey’s email went out following the Zelensky call. Duffey is also one of the OMB officials who refused to testify before the House, and one of the four administration officials Senate Democrats have said they want to hear from during the impeachment trial.
President Trump did not ultimately release the Ukraine aid until September 11, after House Democrats started investigating the issue, and after he had reportedly learned of the whistle-blower complaint regarding the July 25 call. Last week, the House officially impeached Trump for abuse of power and obstruction regarding the scandal.