Sep 24, 2019

Report: Trump ordered Ukraine aid freeze days before call to its leader

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump directed his acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to withhold nearly $400 million in military aid for Ukraine days before he phoned the country's president and allegedly urged him to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden's son, the Washington Post and New York Times report.

Details: The White House told Axios that the reports, published late Monday, are "completely false." WashPost reported that officials in the administration's Office of Management and Budget notified the Pentagon and State Department about the request at an interagency meeting in July.

  • The departments were reportedly told that the Trump administration was examining whether the spending was necessary.

What they're saying: "The media pushed the Russia lie for almost 3 years with no evidence, and now they are doing it all over again," White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley told Axios' Alayna Treene.

"These allegations are completely false, but because the media wants this story to be true so badly, they’ll once again manufacture a frenzy and drive ignorant, fake stories to attack this President."
— Hogan Gidley

Context: Trump earlier flatly denied that he had withheld aid in order to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate allegations of conflicts of interest related to the work of the former vice president's son Hunter Biden with a Ukrainian energy company.

  • The country's prosecutor has found no evidence to support the claims of wrongdoing by Biden or his son.
  • The president defended his right to discuss Biden during his July phone call with Zelensky on Monday. "If you don't talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?" he said.

The state of play: Several Democratic lawmakers and party allies — including Biden — have called on Trump to release a transcript of the call and have demanded that a whistleblower report flagging the call as problematic be turned over to Congress.

The big picture: Several House Democrats spoke out in support of bringing impeachment proceedings against Trump if the White House tries to block Democratic investigations into the allegations, or if they are proven to be true.

  • 7 freshman House Democrats in swing districts who have previously been hesitant toward impeachment wrote in a Monday Washington Post op-ed that they "believe these actions represent an impeachable offense" if proven true.

Go deeper: Key House committees threaten subpoenas over Trump-Ukraine allegations

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Virginia governor announces removal of Richmond's Robert E. Lee statue

Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Thursday that the state will remove the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Richmond's historic Monument Avenue.

Why it matters: It's a watershed moment for Virginia, which has been at the center of a years-long national debate about whether Confederate monuments should be displayed publicly. That discussion reached a boiling point when protests about a statue of Lee in Charlottesville turned violent in 2017.

RNC expands convention search across the Sun Belt

Donald Trump, Mike Pence and their families on the last night of the Republican National Convention in Ohio in 2016. Photo: David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images.

The Republican National Committee is planning site visits over the next 10 days to more than a half-dozen cities — across the South and into Texas and Arizona — as it scrambles for a new convention host, people familiar with the internal discussions tell Axios.

Driving the news: The RNC's executive committee voted Wednesday night to allow most of the convention to move — with only a smaller, official portion remaining in Charlotte — after North Carolina's governor said the coronavirus pandemic would mean a scaled-back event with social distancing and face coverings.

Oil faces tough road back from coronavirus

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Oil companies in the battered shale patch are starting to bring back some production as prices climb, but a new report underscores how the pandemic is taking a heavy financial toll despite signs of revival.

Driving the news: Fourteen North American producers have filed for bankruptcy thus far during the second quarter, per a tally from the law firm Haynes and Boone, which closely tracks the sector's finances.