Politics On Ukraine Aid, ‘Nothing to See Here’: Diplomats Urged to Play Down Funds’ Release
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A growing body of evidence makes clear it was Trump himself who repeatedly pushed his own government and a foreign power to intervene in domestic political concerns.Over two weeks of closed-door testimony, a clear portrait has emerged of a president personally orchestrating the effort to pressure a foreign government to dig up dirt on a potential 2020 political rival — and marshaling the full resources of the federal bureaucracy to help in that endeavor.
WASHINGTON — American diplomats who had pushed for the Trump administration to restore security funding to Ukraine were advised by the White House to play down the release of the money when it was finally approved, documents show.
“Keep moving, people, nothing to see here …,” Brad Freden, the State Department’s acting deputy assistant secretary overseeing issues in Europe and Eurasia, wrote in a Sept. 12 email obtained by The New York Times.
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The acting White House chief of staff circumvented the national security council and assisted those pressing Kiev to produce "deliverables" that could help President Trump politically.Instead, Mulvaney put an unlikely trio in charge of managing the U.S.-Ukraine account amid worrisome signs of a new priority, congressional officials said Tuesday: pressuring the fledgling government in Kiev to deliver material that would be politically valuable to President Trump.
He said the National Security Council would not publicly announce that $141 million in State Department assistance was being restored after being held up in what the White House described as a normal review.
The money is nowby House Democrats into whether President Trump withheld a total of $391 million in funding as he sought damaging information on his political opponents from Ukraine’s newly-elected leader.
A series of previously unreported internal State Department emails reflect diplomats’ frustration with the unexpected freeze on funding that Congress had already approved.
“We realize the strain this puts on posts and your ability to conclude grants and carry out programs,” Jim Kulikowski, the State Department’s regional assistance coordinator, wrote in an Aug. 5 email.
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George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, was told in 2015 that then-Vice President Joe Biden didn’t have the “bandwidth” to deal with the matter.George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, testified Tuesday that he worried that Hunter Biden’s position at the firm Burisma Holdings would complicate efforts by U.S. diplomats to convey to Ukrainian officials the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality rules surrounding the deposition.
“We currently await further guidance and will provide you with an update as soon as we know about next steps,” Mr. Kulikowski wrote in the message, which was sent to dozens of State Department employees, including diplomats in Kiev and in countries across Eastern Europe.
The email did not explain why the assistance was being withheld.
Trump administration officials said, before a between Mr. Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. During that call, Mr. Zelensky said he was grateful for the security assistance that the United States had supplied to Ukraine, and made clear that he hoped to receive more.
A Ukrainian official has said Mr. Zelensky’s government did not learn of the funding delay until about a month later. The White House has said the review merely sought to ensure the money was properly spent.
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But the freeze irritated diplomats who questioned whether it was tied to Mr. Trump’s demands for Ukraine to investigate two politically fraught allegations: aabout election tampering in 2016 and that employed the younger son of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. There is no evidence that the Bidens were involved in wrongdoing.
Once the decision to freeze the aid became public in late August, a bipartisan group of lawmakers pressed the administration to reverse course, saying that holding up the money sent the wrong signal as a new Ukrainian government confronted a continuing military threat from Russia.
William B. Taylor Jr., the top American envoy in Kiev, wrote in athat it was “crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” In response, , the United States ambassador to the European Union, wrote that “the President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind.”
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Live updates: Trump says he would cooperate if Democrats ‘give us our rights’; Biden makes most direct demand for impeachment
A day after the White House announced that it would not cooperate with the inquiry into the Ukraine scandal, Democrats vowed to work to hold the president accountable.“President Trump has indicted himself by obstructing justice, refusing to comply with a congressional inquiry … he’s already convicted himself,” Biden said during a fiery address in New Hampshire.
Mr. Sondland then suggested that the conversation continue by telephone, rather than by text. On Tuesday,Mr. Sondland from testifying to the House in the impeachment inquiry.
Officials were informed that the freeze had been reversed — and the $141 million in foreign military financing would be released — in a Sept. 12 email from the White House that was then sent around the State Department.
“Apparently, and I don’t have full visibility, decision made last night,” Mr. Kulikowski wrote.
Mr. Freden said the Ukrainian government had already been told that the funds were forthcoming. But he urged State Department employees not to announce the reversal.
“Ukrainians are aware, but N.S.C. said that in the spirit of the 'hold' being a normal review, there will be no public announcement that it has been lifted,” he wrote, referring to the president’s National Security Council.
Mr. Taylor said he planned to announce it in Ukraine.
“I will inform President Zelensky as soon as he is out of a meeting,” Mr. Taylor wrote to Mr. Freden. “We then intend to make it public here.”
Mr. Freden responded in minutes.
“In terms of public messaging, N.S.C. is deliberately treating both the hold and its lifting as administrative matters,” he wrote. “My advice is to keep your public messaging low-key as well.”
“Good advice — thanks,” Mr. Taylor emailed back.
The State Department did not respond on Wednesday to several requests for comment.
Some senior State Department officials readily volunteered information about the $141 million in aid as it was finally approved.
At a breakfast meeting with reporters on Sept. 12, R. Clarke Cooper, the assistant secretary of state for political military affairs, said that department officials were notifying lawmakers that morning that the State Department’s portion of aid to Ukraine was moving forward.
He told reporters to anticipate other notifications to Congress — specifically $250 million in military aid from the Pentagon, assistance the Defense Department announced later in the day would also move ahead. Lawmakers from both parties quicklythe same day that the aid had been released.
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.
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