WASHINGTON — Revelations that President Donald Trump pressured Ukraine’s new leader to investigate the son of former vice president Joe Biden have focused fresh attention on hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid the administration withheld from the country until last week.
Trump’s actions — which inspired a whistleblower complaint that the administration has refused to share with lawmakers — involve a July 25 phone call between the two leaders, according to people familiar with the exchange, one of whom said Trump did not raise the issue of military aid during the conversation.
Privately, congressional Democrats are questioning whether the aid, which remained frozen during Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and for several weeks afterward, was related to the “promise” that sparked the whistleblower complaint and what Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson told lawmakers constituted an “urgent” and “credible” threat.
During August and September, lawmakers were engaged in what Republican and Democratic aides described as an unprecedented struggle with the administration to release nearly $400 million in military assistance for Ukraine — $250 million of it controlled by the Pentagon and $141 million by the State Department.
In the five years since Congress began approving significant support for Ukraine’s fight with Russian-backed separatists, lawmakers and the White House have periodically clashed over how much and what kind of assistance is appropriate.
But never before has the White House withheld the entire military allotment for Ukraine until the last days of the fiscal year, as Trump had done, nor has the president ever done so in such an opaque and unorthodox manner, according to House and Senate aides with knowledge of the process.
According to those aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, lawmakers were informed in the spring that the administration intended to start sending money to Ukraine on a rolling basis. But the funds were never transferred — and by August, congressional appropriators became aware that officials at the Pentagon and the State Department had lost control over the process at the Office of Management and Budget, an executive office run by Mick Mulvaney, who serves as the president’s acting chief of staff.
For weeks thereafter, congressional aides said, the OMB announced short-term holds on Ukraine funds. There was never an express reason given except that the administration was conducting a vague “interagency review” of the funds.