Nov 25, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Report: WH review finds Mulvaney sought to justify blocking Ukraine aid

White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on October 17

Mick Mulvaney. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

A confidential internal review found White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney asked budget office officials for an "after-the-fact justification" for withholding aid to Ukraine, the Washington Post first reported Sunday.

Why it matters: The issue of blocking almost $400 million in military aid to Ukraine is central to the impeachment inquiry, as House investigators examine allegations that President Trump ordered the move to press for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. Trump denies any wrongdoing.

Details: The WashPost and New York Times report that the records review by the White House Counsel’s Office discovered that Mulvaney asked in an August email after Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky "whether there was a legal justification" for the move and for how long the military aid could be withheld.

  • The office examined hundreds of documents as part of its investigation, launched after House Democrats announced in September the impeachment inquiry, according to the Post. Per the news outlet:
"One person briefed on the records examination said White House lawyers are expressing concern that the review has turned up some unflattering exchanges and facts that could at a minimum embarrass the president. It’s unclear whether the Mulvaney discussions or other records pose any legal problems for Trump in the impeachment inquiry, but some fear they could pose political problems if revealed publicly."

What they're saying: Rachel Semmel, a budget office spokesperson, said in a statement to the WashPost and Times, "To be clear, there was a legal consensus at every step of the way that the money could be withheld in order to conduct the policy review. OMB works closely with agencies on executing the budget. Routine practices and procedures were followed."

The big picture: Trump has said he ordered withholding the aid to Ukraine so that European nations would contribute. He maintains there was no quid pro quo in his request to Zelensky to open an investigation into the Bidens.

  • Fiona Hill, Trump's former top Russia adviser, testified during last Thursday's impeachment hearing that Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the EU, had a "deal" with Mulvaney to engage in a quid pro quo with Ukraine using a coveted White House visit.
  • A lawyer for Mulvaney issued a statement casting doubt on Hill's testimony, which he called "speculative."

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