By Jon Dougherty
(TNS) As the majority Republicans in the Senate prepared on Wednesday to acquit President Donald Trump of impeachment allegations, it was CNN’s turn to try and throw a wrench into the words with a ‘bombshell’ report about withheld military aid to Ukraine.
According to the network, which cited “emails and other internal documents,” some Pentagon officials were reportedly “stunned” when the president placed a temporary hold on lethal military aid to the Ukrainians that included Javelin anti-tank missiles and other defensive hardware.
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“The new information underscores how the July 18th decision to hold the military aid stunned officials, who had already assessed Ukraine deserved to receive it and were preparing a Javelin missile order as well,” the network reported. “The decision reverberated across the government for weeks.”
The network claims that officials within the Defense Department became so concerned over deferrals on aid disbursement by the Office of Management and Budget they said it was at “serious risk,” even questioning whether the decision was legal (it was, according to the OMB — more on that in a moment).
CNN noted further:
In an email to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who was in his first week on the job, a top Defense official communicated his concern over Trump’s “reported view that the US should cease providing security assistance” to Ukraine and its impact on national security.
Defense officials hoped Esper might be able to persuade the President to drop the hold, and included their rationale in briefing notes provided to him for an August meeting at the White House.
The documents reviewed by CNN — none of which revealed classified information on military operations or sensitive personnel matters — are linked to communications and meetings from July and August last year related to the aid freeze that was at the center of efforts to impeach Trump. The documents paint a broad picture of bureaucrats scrambling to understand and push back against a sudden, unexplained White House directive that disrupted months of careful planning, contradicted Pentagon decisions based on US national security concerns and undermined Ukraine’s efforts to defend itself against Russia.
The revelations follow a refusal by the Department of Justice last week to disclose two dozen emails which it said should remain confidential because they describe “communications by either the President, the Vice President, or the President’s immediate advisors regarding Presidential decision-making about the scope, duration, and purpose of the hold on military assistance to Ukraine.”
Democratic House impeachment investigators have repeatedly highlighted OMB’s refusal to turn over any documents when subpoenaed during the probe and suggested that emails may exist showing acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s role in passing along the President’s order to halt the aid to Ukraine.
The network cited a July 15 email from Pentagon official Laura Cooper, who was called as a Democrat witness to testify during the House’s impeachment inquiry, to Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper, the director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
CNN reports that Cooper wanted help in expediting the Javelin request to Kiev as something that could be delivered ahead of or in alignment with an anticipated meeting between Presidents Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky “as soon as next month.”
The network says that Cooper’s email suggested that all conditions were normal and because of the strong ties between Kiev and Washington, she wanted to speed up the aid request.
But things changed three days later, CNN reported. In an interagency Policy Coordination Committee meeting that was talked about by Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and former U.S. Ambassador to the EU William Taylor during the impeachment inquiry, an official with the OMB revealed that a hold had been placed on Congressional notification for $115 million in foreign military funding awaiting guidance from leaders as to whether Ukraine remained a priority for the Trump administration.
“An official readout written by Vindman from the July 18th meeting noted that OMB conveyed its view that the hold on security assistance could be broadly applied to other security assistance funds, but that no official instructions to hold other funding has been issued,” CNN reported, adding that was the same day that the president’s decision to place a hold on nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine was communicated to the Defense and State departments.
In another perfectly-timed report — on the even of the beginning of the Senate’s impeachment trial last month — the Congressional Budget Office claimed in an eight-page report that could have dropped months sooner that Trump violated the law by withholding the funds.
The New York Times reported January 16:
Hours before the Senate embarked on President Trump’s impeachment trial, a nonpartisan federal watchdog agency unexpectedly weighed in on an issue at the heart of the case: the president’s decision to withhold military assistance to Ukraine.
The agency, the Government Accountability Office, said the White House’s Office of Management and Budget violated the law when it withheld nearly $400 million this past summer for “a policy reason,” even though the funds had been allocated by Congress.
The decision to freeze the aid was directed by the president himself, and during the House impeachment inquiry, administration officials testified that they had raised concerns about its legality to no avail.
A Google search for this story turned up pages and pages of reports, but were it not for Breitbart News and, to its credit the Washington Post, the OMB’s rebuttal would have been buried in the other impeachment news of the day last month.
Breitbart reported that the OMB refuted CBO’s claim that Trump violated the law with his temporary hold. The OMB noted in its opinion:
The pause in obligations of the Ukraine funds at issue here is an example of programmatic delay. … It was OMB’s understanding that a brief period was needed, prior to the funds expiring, to engage in a policy process regarding those funds. OMB took appropriate action, in light of a pending policy process, to ensure that funds were not obligated prematurely in a manner that could conflict with the President’s foreign policy.
The OMB memo also includes a footnote explaining that the Executive has sometimes held up funding beyond the statutory deadline at the request of Congress itself. “OMB is aware of instances in which Members of Congress demanded that agencies withhold funds for months— and even years—beyond the period required by statute for reasons wholly unrelated to the purpose of the appropriation,” the footnote says.
There are two forms of delaying aid — one is a programmatic delay and the other is a “deferral,” the latter of which is still subject to the provisions of the Impoundment Control Act, which requires the president to inform Congress, Breitbart noted.
Bottom line: CNN expended a lot of bandwidth to cast new aspersions and doubts about President Trump’s actions regarding Ukrainian aid, but nothing the network reported rises to the level of a “smoking gun.”
The aid was delivered, OMB said it was done within the parameters of the law and in accordance with the president’s policies (nothing knew there), and there was never any “quid pro quo,” the accusation that launched the “Ukrainegate” probe and the impeachment in the first place — an allegation that was not included in the two articles of impeachment, by the way.
What’s more, the Obama administration was pressed by members of Congress repeatedly to provide lethal military aid (like Javelin anti-armor missiles that Trump approved) but never did.
In fact, when the Russian-backed rebels who were battling Ukrainian government forces were rising in strength, circa 2015-16, Vice President Joe Biden was threatening a real “quid pro quo” — to withhold vital funding (approved by Congress) unless the country fired a prosecutor looking into corruption involving a company, Burisma, paying his son $83k a month.
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