WILDLY INCRIMINATING EMAILS SHOW THE WHITE HOUSE KNEW TRUMP WAS EXTORTING UKRAINE
Staff, including Mick Mulvaney, scrambled to justify the hold on nearly $400 million in aid in exchange for investigations.
NOVEMBER 25, 2019
BY ALEX WONG/GETTY.
Of the many defenses Donald Trump’s allies have tried to make stick concerning his attempt to extort Ukraine, one most oft-repeated is that the hold on nearly $400 million in military aid in exchange for investigations doesn’t matter because the aid was ultimately released. One problem there is that the aid was conveniently only released the day after Representative Adam Schiff sent a letter regarding the existence of the whistle-blower complaint, suggesting it might’ve remained in limbo if no one had raised a stink. Another problem? Internal emails show that the White House scrambled to come up with a justification for freezing the money just days after the White House Counsel’s Office was told that an anonymous CIA official had filed a complaint with the agency’s general counsel concerning the president’s July 25 phone call, suggesting people on the inside knew they were fucked.
The Washington Post reports that a confidential White House review of Trump’s decision to put a hold on aid to Ukraine “has turned up hundreds of documents that reveal extensive efforts to generate an after-the-fact justification for the decision and a debate over whether the delay was legal.” In early August, for example, email exchanges show acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney asking acting Office of Management and Budget director Russell Vought to provide an update on the legal rationale for holding up the aid and how much longer it could be delayed. (The month prior, the president had decided to freeze the money “without an assessment of the reasoning or legal justification,” because when you’re pressuring another country to do your personal bidding, you don’t typically ask, Hey, this is cool legally-speaking, right?) Emails show Vought and OMB staffers insisting the hold was legal, while officials at the State Department and National Security Council believed otherwise. According to the justification from the OMB lawyers, withholding the aid was legal so long as they referred to it as a “temporary” hold, according to people familiar with the matter.
Mulvaney’s request for information came days after the White House Counsel’s Office was put on notice that an anonymous CIA official had made a complaint to the agency’s general counsel about Trump’s July 25 call to [Volodymyr] Zelensky during which he requested Ukraine investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, as well as an unfounded theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. This official would later file a whistle-blower complaint with the intelligence community’s inspector general, which ignited the impeachment push when its existence became public.
The emails revealed by White House lawyers include some in which Mulvaney urges Vought to immediately focus on Ukraine’s aid package, making clear it was a top priority for the administration…. Mulvaney is a critical player in the Ukraine saga, as he has acknowledged that he asked the OMB to block the release of congressionally approved aid to Ukraine—at the president’s request—in early or mid-July 2019.
While the White House has stonewalled Congress’s requests for information and for witnesses to testify, Mark Sandy, a career OMB official, told lawmakers that the delayed aid was highly unusual and that he’d never before seen senior political OMB officials seize control of a portfolio in such a manner.
In a statement, OMB spokeswoman Rachel K. Semmel insisted—even now, after all we know!—that “there was a legal consensus at every step of the way that the money could be withheld to conduct the policy review,” and that the emails do not at all reveal panicked staffers trying to justify Trump’s actions after the fact. “OMB works closely with agencies on executing the budget. Routine practices and procedures were followed, not scrambling,” she said. The White House press office and Counsel’s Office did not respond to the Post’s requests for comment; Robert Driscoll, Mulvaney’s lawyer, declined to comment. For his part, Mulvaney famously told reporters that of course Trump wanted a quid pro quo deal with Ukraine, and that such things happen in this administration all the time, before attempting to walk back everything he said.
Aaaand here’s the moment Mick Mulvaney admitted that there was a quid-pro-quo involved in withholding Ukraine aid. He says they held up military aid because Trump wanted Ukraine to investigate the “DNC server.”
Mulvaney’s position in the White House is, not surprisingly, tenuous at best, though Trump insisted on Monday that he remains confident in the acting chief of staff, telling reporters “of course I do” before heading to an event with Conan the military dog, where he did an awkward impression of a person who’s comfortable around animals.
Comments are closed