A White House review of President Donald Trump’s decision to withhold nearly $400 million in US military aid to Ukraine showed an extensive effort to justify that hold after it was placed and a debate over its legality, The Washington Post reported Sunday.
The Post, citing three people familiar with the records, said the White House Counsel’s Office surfaced hundreds of documents through a confidential review prompted by the House impeachment inquiry into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
Emails between acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House budget officials from early August showed a search for an explanation for why Trump stalled the money Congress had approved to go to Ukraine after the President had ordered it held the month before.
The Post, citing two White House officials, reports Trump made the decision to withhold the aid in July “without an assessment of reasoning or legal justification.”
News of the retroactive effort to justify Ukraine’s aid freeze could prove to be a meaningful boon for House Democrats who — despite speaking with 17 witnesses behind closed doors — have not obtained crucial documents or spoken with several key officials because the White House and State Department have refused to comply with subpoenas.
Bolton’s tweeting, but will he testify?
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff on Sunday signaled that Democrats would not be taking former national security adviser John Bolton to court to get his testimony.
Schiff told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” that Bolton should have the “courage” to testify like former National Security Council Russia expert Fiona Hill and others. And if he chooses not to testify, Bolton will have to explain to the country “why did he wait to tell” his story in his upcoming book rather than to the public “when it mattered.”
Bolton emerged as a critical figure over the past two weeks of public testimony. During that congressional testimony, National Security Council staff placed him in key meetings with Ukrainian leaders and private meetings with the President on releasing military aid to Ukraine. Bolton’s lawyer told Democrats that the former national security adviser knows information that had not yet been disclosed to the committee but would only testify if a court ordered him to do so.
Circling back to Pompeo
The bombshell Post report comes on the heels of a late-night email release on Friday of State Department emails showing that the White House helped arrange a phone call between Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo the day after the President’s personal lawyer handed over materials containing corruption allegations involving former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, according to documents released by the State Department late Friday night. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden.
The documents show that Pompeo spoke with Giuliani briefly twice in late March — both before and after he handed off a packet of information that included claims against the Bidens.
Only the second conversation was facilitated by the White House. The emails, obtained through a lawsuit by the watchdog group American Oversight, provide new insight into how Giuliani’s efforts were coordinated through the White House.
Giuliani associate says Nunes was also involved in Biden dirt-digging
A lawyer for an indicted associate of Giuliani told CNN that his client is willing to tell Congress about meetings the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee had in Vienna last year with a former Ukrainian prosecutor to discuss digging up dirt on Joe Biden.
The attorney, Joseph A. Bondy, represents Lev Parnas, the indicted Soviet-born American who worked with Giuliani to push claims of Democratic corruption in Ukraine. Bondy said that Parnas was told directly by the former Ukrainian official that he met last year in Vienna with Rep. Devin Nunes.
“Mr. Parnas learned from former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Victor Shokin that Nunes had met with Shokin in Vienna last December,” Bondy said.
Nunes is one of Trump’s key allies in Congress and has emerged as a staunch defender of the President during the impeachment inquiry, which he has frequently labeled as a “circus.” Nunes declined repeated requests for comment.
The Ukraine conspiracy, debunked
Remember, the reason Trump wanted the aid held was to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into the activities of Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, based on corruption claims pushed by Giuliani concerning the younger Biden’s appointment to the board of a Ukrainian energy company called Burisma.
But the Burisma line came up as Giuliani was exploring conspiracy theories alleging that Ukraine — not Russia — meddled in the 2016 election, to benefit Democrats. In this telling, Ukraine framed Russia for the hacks and coordinated with Democratic operatives in the US to smear Trump.
At least nine witnesses in the impeachment inquiry have now testified that those claims were fabricated by the Russians or unsupported by the evidence.
Check out some notable examples below.
Former White House adviser Fiona Hill
“Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country, and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”
Former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch
“My understanding, again, from the press was that, you know, the allegation that there was Ukrainian interference in our elections in 2016 — that it wasn’t Russia, it was Ukraine — that that had been debunked long ago.”
Former US Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker
“My view was, well if there are things like that, then why not investigate them. I don’t believe that there is anything to them. If there is, 2016 election interference is what I was thinking of, we would want to know about that, but I didn’t really believe there was anything there to begin with.”
Get ready for an action-packed December
A handful of leadership aides and senior committee officials are planning a busy week to prepare for a December that will likely see the House impeach the President by year’s end.
Democratic House aides are spending Thanksgiving week preparing a report that will spell out the case for impeachment. The report, which will be released by the House Intelligence Committee and two other panels, is likely to be a guiding document as the impeachment proceedings move through the House Judiciary Committee. It’s unlikely the report will contain any big surprises, as almost all the evidence is already public.
The final two transcripts — from Philip Reeker of the State Department and Mark Sandy of the Office of Management and Budget — could be released as soon as Monday. Lawmakers have already released 15 transcripts from their depositions, the text messages they obtained from Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, and the emails provided by US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.
Senior aides on the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees plan to continue deliberation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s staff to determine the size and scope of the articles of impeachment. Ultimately, the decision will be made by Pelosi. They are looking at multiple articles of impeachment — including abuse of power, obstruction of Congress, obstruction of justice and bribery.
Supreme Court watch: RBG had ‘chills and fever’
Ginsburg, 86, was initially evaluated at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, DC, before being transferred to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore Friday night for treatment of any possible infection. The high court said Saturday that Ginsburg’s symptoms had abated after receiving IV antibiotics and fluids.
Ginsburg’s health has become a recurring issue as the high court grapples with wide-reaching cases that can transform American law. Since coming to office, Trump has made two appointments, Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, deepening the conservative tilt.
Reminder: The Supreme Court is already being asked to deal with lawsuits involving Trump’s taxes, which he’s refused to release to the public, to prosecutors or to members of Congress. The court will also be the last word on any questions arising from next year’s election.