Probe unearths emails between White House officials trying to justify Trump’s Ukraine aid block

A confidential White House investigation into Donald Trump’s decision to withhold military aid to Ukraine has reportedly unearthed hundreds of documents detailing extensive efforts among senior officials to seek an ‘after-the-fact justification’ for the decision – as well as a debate over whether such a delay was legal in the first place.

The Washington Post reported that the confidential review was triggered after the impeachment inquiry against President Trump was announced in September.

The probe details emails shared between acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House budget officials seeking a legally-sound reason to justify Trump’s then already ordered hold of $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine.

Sources say the White House Counsel’s Office has expressed concern that the review has yielded some ‘unflattering’ exchanges and facts that could pose some political challenges for the president, as well as cause him – at a the very least – some embarrassment if released publicly.

The withholding of military aid is at the center of the House Democrat’s investigation into whether the president should be removed from the White House after allegedly pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his political rivals in exchange for the funding.

The probe details emails shared between acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney (above) and White House budget officials seeking a legally-sound reason to justify Trump’s then already ordered hold of $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine

The probe details emails shared between acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney (above) and White House budget officials seeking a legally-sound reason to justify Trump’s then already ordered hold of $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine

The probe details emails shared between acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney (above) and White House budget officials seeking a legally-sound reason to justify Trump’s then already ordered hold of $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine

During email exchanges in early August, a month after Trump decided to hold the aid, Mulvaney asked acting Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director Russell Vought for a possible legal explanation to back the decision.

Two sources told the Post that Trump made the decision weeks prior without assessment of the reasoning or legal justification.

Dozens of emails show Vought and OMB staffers arguing that withholding the aid was legal, which National Security Council and State Department members protested it wasn’t at all.

The email chain came days after the White House Counsel’s office was notified that an anonymous CIA official had filed a whistleblower complaint regarding Trump’s now infamous July 25 call with Zelensky, in which he requested the Ukrainian President investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in addition to a conspiracy that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 presidential election.

The White House then released the funds to Ukraine on September 11 – two days after the House announced it was launching an inquiry into the whistleblower complaint, which has raised concerns the president may have been using his position in public office for his own personal gain.

Though, since the report, Trump has acknowledged both ordering the hold in aid and asking Zelensky to investigate the Bidens, he has denied there was ever a quid pro quo, or any other condition Ukraine needed to adhere to before gaining access to the aid.

Sources say the White House Counsel's Office has expressed concern that the review has yielded some ‘unflattering’ exchanges and facts that could pose some political challenges for the president, as well as cause him – at a the very least – some embarrassment if released publicly

Sources say the White House Counsel's Office has expressed concern that the review has yielded some ‘unflattering’ exchanges and facts that could pose some political challenges for the president, as well as cause him – at a the very least – some embarrassment if released publicly

Sources say the White House Counsel’s Office has expressed concern that the review has yielded some ‘unflattering’ exchanges and facts that could pose some political challenges for the president, as well as cause him – at a the very least – some embarrassment if released publicly 

The email chain came days after the White House Counsel’s office was notified that an anonymous CIA official had filed a whistleblower complaint regarding Trump’s now infamous July 25 call with Zelensky in which he requested the Ukrainian President investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in addition to a conspiracy that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 presidential election

The email chain came days after the White House Counsel’s office was notified that an anonymous CIA official had filed a whistleblower complaint regarding Trump’s now infamous July 25 call with Zelensky in which he requested the Ukrainian President investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in addition to a conspiracy that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 presidential election

The email chain came days after the White House Counsel’s office was notified that an anonymous CIA official had filed a whistleblower complaint regarding Trump’s now infamous July 25 call with Zelensky in which he requested the Ukrainian President investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in addition to a conspiracy that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 presidential election

Mulvaney is a crucial feature of the Ukraine saga, having already acknowledged he asked OMB to block the release of congressionally-approved aid to Ukraine in mid-July this year, on the president’s request.

Overseen by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, investigators recovered emails showing Mulvaney urging Vought to immediately focus on Ukraine’s aid package, proving it was a top priority for the administration.

The Post said the probe has only sought to exacerbate the growing tensions between Cipollone and Mulvaney, with the former remaining tight-lipped on his findings, while Mulvaney’s aids say Cipollone isn’t providing White House officials with the important material they need to respond to public inquiries.

Also included in the review are email conversations between OMB and State Department officials discussing why the White House was holding the $400 million in military aid and whether the hold may be a violation of law, specifically the Budget and Impoundment Act – which requires the executive branch to spend congressional appropriated funds unless Congress agrees they can be rescinded.

Cipollone, however, has warned House impeachment investigators that the White House will not be cooperating with the inquiry in any way, including greenlighting witnesses or handing over documents.

Though some officials from the departments of State and Defense have testified publicly about their concerns over whether Trump was in fact seeking to leverage the aid and a White House visit for an investigation into the Bidens, only one OMB official as appeared before the congressional committees.

During email exchanges in early August, a month after Trump decided to hold the aid, Mulvaney asked acting Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director Russell Vought (right) for a possible legal explanation to back the decision. Two sources told the Post that Trump made the decision weeks prior without assessment of the reasoning or legal justification

During email exchanges in early August, a month after Trump decided to hold the aid, Mulvaney asked acting Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director Russell Vought (right) for a possible legal explanation to back the decision. Two sources told the Post that Trump made the decision weeks prior without assessment of the reasoning or legal justification

During email exchanges in early August, a month after Trump decided to hold the aid, Mulvaney asked acting Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director Russell Vought (right) for a possible legal explanation to back the decision. Two sources told the Post that Trump made the decision weeks prior without assessment of the reasoning or legal justification

That official, Mark Sandy, testified that he believed the decision to delay the aid was ‘highly irregular’, and said senior members of his office wanted to be involved in reviewing the aid package but were denied.

Sandy told impeachment investigators he had questions about whether it was legal to withhold aid Congress had specifically authorized to help Ukraine defend itself from Russia, but OMB lawyers reportedly told him it was fine as long as they called it a ‘temporary’ hold.

Sandy, the deputy associate director for national security programs at OMB, then signed official letters freezing the funds, however he was never provided an explanation for the delay by top political appointees.

The finds of the review were substantiated by the testimony of Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, who said that Trump and the Office of Management and Budget were at odds over the military aid decision.

Of a July inter-agency meeting, Hale said, ‘The State Department advocated, as I did in that meeting, for proceeding with all of the assistance, consistent with our policies and interests in Ukraine.’

Meanwhile, Trump has continued to decry any claims of foul play and has insisted from the off-set that the House Democrats’ impeachment investigation is nothing short of a ‘hoax’ and a ‘with-hunt’, maintaining his innocence

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