Durbin: Why Did President Trump Continue Holding Ukraine Military Aid Amid Warnings About Legality?
Senator’s Question Highlights How DoD Officials Were Sounding The Alarm On The Continued Withholding Of $250 Million In Military Aid To Ukraine
WASHINGTON—During the question and answer portion of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, today asked both the House managers and the President’s counsel why the President continued withholding $250 million in military aid to Ukraine when Department of Defense (DoD) officials were sounding the alarm that the hold would violate the law and short-change our ally of much-needed defense aid as early as August 19, 2019.
Un-redacted emails between DoD and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which were obtained by the media and released in early January, revealed that by August 12, 2019, the Pentagon could no longer guarantee that all of the $250 million in military aid to Ukraine could be spent before it expired on September 30, 2019. On August 27, Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist drafted a letter that stated that the Pentagon had “repeatedly advised OMB officials that pauses beyond August 19, 2019 jeopardize the Department’s ability to obligate USAI funding prudently and fully, consistent with the Impoundment Control Act.”
Durbin’s question asked the following: “Emails between DoD and OMB officials reveal that by August 12 the Pentagon could no longer guarantee that all of the $250 million in DoD aid to Ukraine could be spent before it expired. Deputy Secretary of Defense Norquist drafted a letter that stated that the Pentagon had ‘repeatedly advised OMB officials that pauses beyond August 19 jeopardize the Department’s ability to obligate USAI funding prudently and fully.’ Why did the President persist in withholding the funds when DoD officials were sounding the alarm that the hold would violate the law and short-change our ally of needed military aid?”
Mr. Patrick Philbin responded to Durbin’s question on behalf of the President’s counsel. He admitted that because of the President’s hold on the funds, $35 million of the military aid was not spent before the end of the fiscal year. Those funds would have expired had Congress not intervened to extend the availability of the fiscal year 2019 funds. Nearly half of the unspent funds were intended for lethal material to assist Ukrainian security forces battling Russian-back separatists.
U.S. Representative Jason Crow (D-CO-06) followed Mr. Philbin on behalf of the House managers stating, “This idea that the delay doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if it was a four-day delay, a 40-day delay, or a 400-day delay. Every delay in combat matters. Every delay in combat matters.”
Video of Durbin’s question and corresponding response on the Senate floor is available here.
Audio of Durbin’s question and corresponding response on the Senate floor is available here.
Footage of Durbin’s question and corresponding response on the Senate floor is available here for TV stations.
Earlier this month, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a legal opinion, which found that the Trump Administration’s order to hold $250 million in military aid to Ukraine violated the Impoundment Control Act, a law passed by Congress to rein in Nixon-era abuses. The GAO ruling found that a president can only put a hold on congressionally-approved spending for very limited and temporary purposes, which was not the case with the White House’s orders in the summer of 2019.
The unlawful, months-long hold on $250 million in defense aid to Ukraine resulted in $35 million of the funds not being spent before the end of the fiscal year – leading GAO to conclude that the hold was not permissible. Durbin and other Senators wrote to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on November 18, 2019, urging the Pentagon to spend the remaining funds as quickly as possible. As of late December, about $18 million of those carryover funds remain unspent.
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