Two WH Budget Officials Resigned After Expressing Concern About Ukraine Holds, Witness Testified

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 26: U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence Committee returns to a closed session before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight com... WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 26: U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence Committee returns to a closed session before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees on October 26, 2019 in Washington, DC. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Reeker is expected to appear for testimony as part of the inquiry and the latest in a line of career diplomats who have complied with a House subpoena and defied White House orders not to comply. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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November 26, 2019 5:13 p.m.
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The House impeachment inquiry on Tuesday released the transcript from the depositions of Mark Sandy, a top career official in the White House budget office.

Sandy, who testified behind closed doors on Nov. 16, is deputy associate director for national security at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Sandy’s supervisor, political appointee Michael Duffey, signed off on multiple holds of defense aid to Ukraine following President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s July 25 phone call, according to a summary of White House documents provided to TPM by the House Budget Committee.

Two OMB official resigned at least in part over concerns about the holds, Sandy testified.

Here are the big takeaways from his deposition:

A “media report” piqued Trump’s interest about Ukrainian military aid

Sandy said that he heard in June from Duffey, his supervisor, that President Trump had questions about the military assistance going to Ukraine.

“I heard that the President had seen a media report and he had questions about the assistance,” Sandy recalled.

Sandy recalled that was copied on an email from Duffey to the Pentagon asking for more information about the Ukraine money, and that the Pentagon subsequently provided the budget office with a hard copy summary about the aid the next day, June 20.

The President directly ordered a hold on the Ukraine money.

As other witnesses have testified, Sandy said he heard that the hold on military assistance to Ukraine had come directly from President Trump.

“When I returned from leave July 18th, I was informed of the President’s direction to hold support funding for Ukraine,” he said. Sandy said that Duffey informed him of the hold.

“He communicated that that was the direction he had received,” Sandy said. Duffey, Sandy testified, said he didn’t know why Trump wanted the money held.

Mick Mulvaney’s office communicated Trump’s demand on July 12

Though multiple witnesses have testified that they learned about Trump’s order to freeze Ukraine aid on July 18, during an interagency meeting, Sandy testified that it actually came days earlier from White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s office.

Duffey, Sandy said, forwarded him a July 12 email from Mulvaney’s office demanding the aid freeze. It was sent by Robert Blair, a senior advisor to Mulvaney, Sandy recalled.

What did it say? he was asked.

“To the best of my recollection, that the President is directing a hold on military support funding for Ukraine,” Sandy replied.

OMB staffers argued for the hold to be removed

In a memo to Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget Russell Vought sent on Aug. 7th, career OMB staff recommended the hold on aide to Ukraine be lifted “on certain policy arguments,” Sandy testified.

“One was that the assistance to Ukraine is consistent with the national security strategy in terms of supporting a stable, peaceful Europe. Second was the benefit from the program in terms of opposing Russian aggression. Another argument pertained to the bipartisan support for the program.”

Sandy said Duffey approved the memo.

Authority over the aid hold was handed to political staff on July 30

“On Tuesday, July 30th, the delegation for approving apportionments made Mike Duffey the approver,” Sandy testified. That meant that Duffey, a political appointee and Sandy’s boss, would make decisions going forward about the hold on the Ukraine aide, as well as other apportionments.

Duffey informed Sandy of the change, explaining, in Sandy’s recollection, that he “had an interest in being more involved in daily operations” and that “he regarded this responsibility as a way for him to learn more about the specific accounts within his area.”

Sandy and his colleagues expressed concern, he testified. The job is “a substantial workload,” he testified, “and we usually are very protective of the Associate Director’s time, so we were concerned about how much time this would consume.” Staff also wanted to “ensure that this did not reflect any sort of loss of trust.” Duffey assured the staff it did not.

Two officials, including a department lawyer, resigned in part due to concerns about the holds

Sandy testified about two officials who he said resigned, at least in part, in response to the holds.

One, in the budget office’s International Affairs Division, “expressed some frustrations about not understanding the reason for the hold,” Sandy testified. That division was responsible for the State Department’s nine-figure aid package to Ukraine.

The second person to resign, an official from OMB’s legal office, “expressed concerns about actions vis-a-vis the Impoundment Control Act” in the context of the Ukraine money, Sandy said.

The Government Accountability Office is currently investigating whether the White House violated that law, which sets requirements for notifying Congress if the White House holds money that’s already been allocated.

Multiple officials, from the White House budget office, the Pentagon and elsewhere expressed concern about adhering to the law, Sandy testified.

The White House only started asking what other countries were contributing to Ukraine in September

Though Trump and his allies have said they withheld Ukraine aid funds primarily for two reasons — concerns about corruption and concerns about other countries’ contributions to Ukraine — Sandy said only one of those justifications came up in discussions with the White House, and only months after the fact.

After the defense funds were held in July, he said, he asked Duffey for an explanation and got none — until the beginning of September.

In “early September,” Sandy recalled, Duffey relayed a request from Mulvaney’s adviser, Blair, for information about what other countries contributed to Ukraine. then, sometime before Sept. 9, Duffey sent Sandy an email “attributed the hold to the President’s concern about other countries not contributing more to Ukraine.”

Then, Sandy said, he got a visit from Blair himself — after the hold on the aid was lifted on Sept. 12. The Mulvaney aide, he affirmed, asserted that the reason for the hold on the Ukraine funds was out of concern that other countries should give Ukraine more assistance.

This timing is important – by early September, the White House had become aware of the whistleblower’s complaint into Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine.

Read Sandy’s testimony here, or below.

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