WH Froze Ukraine Money Within Hours Of Trump-Zelensky Call

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 18 : President Donald J. Trump, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and Ivanka Trump, speaks on a phone call to congratulate astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir during the first all-w... WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 18 : President Donald J. Trump, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and Ivanka Trump, speaks on a phone call to congratulate astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir during the first all-woman spacewalk, from the Roosevelt Room at the White House on Friday, Oct 18, 2019 in Washington, DC. This is the first time since the 1969 Moon landing that a sitting president spoke directly to astronauts while they were outside of a spacecraft. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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November 26, 2019 4:53 p.m.
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The White House first officially froze $250 million in Pentagon military aid funds destined for Ukraine within hours of the now-infamous July 25 call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelensky.

That’s according to documents the White House provided to the House Budget and Appropriations committees. The Budget committee shared a summary of the documents with TPM Monday.

Trump and Zelensky spoke on the phone the morning of July 25. The now-infamous call, in which Trump pressured the Ukrainians to investigate his domestic political rivals, spurred an anonymous whistleblower’s complaint that ultimately led to the House’s impeachment inquiry.

Within hours of that call, according to the committee’s summary of White House documents, the aid money to Ukraine was frozen. CNN first reported the news Tuesday.

The hold, which was signed by an unnamed “OMB career official” at 6:44 p.m. ET that day, stayed in effect for a month and a half, according to the committee summary. It was lifted on Sept. 12, two weeks after a Politico article on the withheld funds set off alarm bells across Washington, D.C. and Kiev, and just before Zelensky was scheduled to fulfill the White House demand that he publicly announce investigations into Trump’s rivals.

A week prior to the July 25 call, officials from multiple agencies were notified on a conference call that the White House had instructed its Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to withhold the funds, multiple witnesses have testified.

The OMB documents confirmed as much, the committee summary said. The White House office “notified an interagency working group, which included DoD and the State Department, about an instruction to withhold all funds for Ukraine security assistance,” according to the summary.

After that initial hold, per the summary, the Pentagon funds and millions more in State Department funds destined for Ukraine were held up by a political appointee, Michael Duffey. The summary document stated that Duffey signed a hold on State/USAID funds destined for Ukraine on Aug. 3 and signed a hold on the Pentagon funds three days later, on Aug. 6 — and that responsibility for the funds was not returned to the career official in charge of them for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

Duffey was a no-show at impeachment inquiry testimony scheduled this month. CNN, citing an unnamed source, identified the career official as Mark Sandy, who did testify behind closed doors on Nov. 16.

“OMB took the seemingly unprecedented step of stripping career officials of their normal role in the apportionment process and instead vesting a political appointee with that authority,” the Budget committee summary document noted.

The White House documents themselves were not included in the summary that the committee provided to reporters. And the committee said OMB “has not provided the bulk of the documents” requested.

Still, the committee said, “OMB’s responses and documentation to date confirm that the apportionment process has been misused to withhold Congressionally enacted appropriations.”

According to the summary document, the White House released the funds only gradually, and following expressions of concern from Congress. Ultimately, some of the money did not make it to its intended agencies until after the end of the fiscal year, requiring Congress to pass a continuing resolution in order to make use of it.

The State Department notified Congress on Sept. 11 that it intended direct $141 million under its purview to Ukraine, though the actual releases occurred on Sept. 27 and Sept. 30, according to the summary — the last days of the fiscal year.

The Pentagon funds were withheld by Duffey until Sept. 12, according to the committee’s summary document. And even then, a portion of the money had to be authorized for use during the next fiscal year, under the 2019 continuing resolution.

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