Documents reveal new details of Trump's scheme to pressure Ukraine

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Newly released messages show the White House was already prepared to withhold aid to the country even before Trump's 'perfect' phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

New documents released Tuesday reveal that the Trump administration was preparing to freeze security aid to Ukraine even before the now-infamous July 25, 2019, phone conversation between Donald Trump and Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released 192 pages of records to American Oversight, a nonprofit ethics watchdog, late Tuesday night. The documents, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and heavily redacted, they show the administration's chaotic scheme to block the money Congress had appropriated for Ukraine as part of a larger scheme to pressure the country into investigating the Bidens and debunked conspiracies related to the 2016 election.

According to the new documents, the night before Trump's phone call — the one he has repeatedly called "perfect" — the Office of General Counsel (OGC) apparently prepared a "footnote" to hold the security funds to Ukraine and sent it to OMB. Before Trump's conversation with Zelenskiy on the morning of July 25, a staffer sent the "OGC-approved revised footnote" to Michael Duffey, the associate director of national security programs at OMB. The emails suggest that they then planned to alert the Pentagon of the hold.

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Earlier document releases showed that about an hour and a half after Trump and Zelenskiy got off the phone, Duffey told the Defense Department to hold the security aid.

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has since concluded that the White House budget office violated the law when it implemented the freeze, specifically noting that the decision was a breach of the Impoundment Control Act, which bars presidents from interfering in congressionally allocated funding except in very rare, non-policy-related instances.

The administration's response to American Oversight on Tuesday also included documents showing that Duffey believed the aid freeze would continue past Sept. 11, 2019. That morning, he emailed the Defense Department's comptroller to say they planned to extend at least to Sept. 12, but by that evening, plans had changed.

Duffey emailed the comptroller again at 7:30 p.m., writing: "I will be issuing an apportionment this evening to immediately release all [Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative] funds for obligation. I will alert you as soon as I have signed the apportionment."

It was not immediately clear what prompted the sudden change in plans, as much of the new documents were blacked out.

As many have since noted, the hurried back and forth came weeks after a whistleblower complaint was filed accusing Trump of acting inappropriately in that phone call with Zelenskiy, and days after lawmakers on Capitol Hill were informed of the complaint's existence. Members of Congress had also begun contacting U.S. intelligence officials to inquire about the aid freeze around that time.

Six days later, the Washington Post broke its story about the whistleblower complaint, outlining the report and noting in a separate report a day later that the matter related to Ukraine.

The new documents were released this week as the Republican-controlled Senate was voting down a series of rule amendments offered by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer ahead of Trump's impeachment trial. The amendments would have subpoenaed for administration documents relevant to the allegations of obstruction and abuse of power.

Trump's apparent demand that Ukraine investigate his political opponents — and his scheme to withhold aid to make them honor it — formed much of the basis for the House of Representatives' decision to impeach him last month.

Although the House subpoenaed administration records, the White House refused to comply with its requests. With this release, the Trump administration has actually provided more information through the FOIA request than to the House impeachment inquiry.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.