Security expert: Unredacted batch of Ukraine documents 'reveal key decision points' that underscore White House legal troubles

Security expert: Unredacted batch of Ukraine documents 'reveal key decision points' that underscore White House legal troubles
Volodymyr Zelensky, Image via Wikimedia Commons / Government of Ukraine.

It remains to be seen when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will send the two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the U.S. Senate: although the U.S. House of Representatives indicted Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on December 18, Pelosi was still holding onto the articles on January 2. But Democrats certainly have a mountain of evidence to work with, and security expert Kate Brannen examines some of the Ukraine-related documents in an in-depth report for Just Security.


One of those documents is an August 30 e-mail from Michael Duffey, associate director of national security programs for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In that e-mail, Brannen notes, Duffey told Pentagon Comptroller Elaine McCusker, “Clear direction from POTUS to continue to hold.” Duffey was referring to the hold that Trump had placed on military aid to Ukraine, which House Democrats say was offered by Trump on the condition that the Ukrainian government investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

“Thanks to the testimony of several Trump Administration officials,” Brannen explains, “we now know what Trump was waiting on: a commitment from Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. But getting at that truth hasn’t been easy, and the Trump Administration continues to try to obscure it. It is blocking key officials from testifying and is keeping documentary evidence from lawmakers investigating the Ukraine story.”

Nonetheless, Brannen adds, a court recently ordered the federal government to release 300 pages of e-mails to the Center for Public Integrity in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. One batch of e-mails was released on December 12, and another was released on December 21, including the one from Duffey to McCusker — although some of them were partially or completely redacted. But since then, Brannen reports, Just Security has “viewed unredacted copies of these e-mails, which begin in June and end in early October. Together, they tell the behind-the-scenes story of the defense and budget officials who had to carry out the president’s unexplained hold on military aid to Ukraine.”

The e-mails, according to Brannen, “reveal key decision points, moments when senior officials hoped the hold might be lifted. This includes Vice President Mike Pence’s September meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which a senior defense official expected would resolve the funding issue.”

Brannen’s article is quite thorough, describing one e-mail after another. And the e-mails, she notes, show when the hold on military aid to Ukraine was eventually lifted.

“Finally, on September 11,” Brannen explains, “Duffey e-mailed McCusker to tell her: the hold is lifted. When she asked him why, Duffey responded, ‘Not exactly clear, but president made the decision to go. Will fill you in when I get details.’”

Brannen goes on to explain that “with the hold lifted, McCusker’s team worked fast to get the money out the door. But in the end, $35.2 million of the Ukraine funding lapsed and required new congressional legislation to make it available again.”

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