In a significant development, a White House official from the Office of Management and Budget told the Pentagon that the order to hold Ukraine aid came directly from President Donald Trump, according to unredacted documents reviewed by Just Security.
In the face of warnings from the Pentagon that the hold on military aid to Ukraine could be illegal, the official made it clear that the order to keep the freeze in place came directly from the president.
The documents, including emails from officials at the Department of Defense and the Office of Management and Budget that were released under court order last month but were either partially or completely blacked out, offer new details about tensions between the two agencies tasked with carrying out Trump’s unexplained hold on aid to Ukraine.
They also raise serious questions about why the newly revealed contents were redacted by the Trump administration in the first place amid congressional oversight efforts and court orders in Freedom of Information Act litigation.
Among the documents viewed by Just Security, a website focusing on reporting and analysis of national security law and policy, was an August 30 email from Michael Duffey, associate director of national security programs at OMB to Elaine McCusker, the acting Pentagon comptroller, stating the freeze on aid to Ukraine would continue at the explicit direction of the President despite growing legal concerns within the Pentagon and mounting external questions prompted by news of the hold becoming public just days prior.
“Clear direction from POTUS to continue to hold,” Duffey wrote in that email, which has only been made available in redacted form until now and was not handed over to House investigators conducting the impeachment inquiry into the President, according to Just Security.
The August 30 email was sent on the same day Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Trump to discuss the hold, which had already been in place for roughly two months.
Pentagon officials were concerned at OMB’s apparent apathy surrounding their legal concerns and a lack of understanding of the legal constraints that the Defense Department was under with regard to the aid, the official said, adding that they believe OMB’s apathy stemmed from the fact that they had guidance from the President to execute the hold.
An official, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said that the Pentagon made it clear to OMB that it was not going to be held legally liable for or suffer the consequences of the hold and the ignoring of the concerns of the Defense Department.
You can read the entire report here.