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Politics White House budget official appears for testimony on Ukraine aid hold amid impeachment inquiry

17:30  16 november  2019
17:30  16 november  2019 Source:   politico.com

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A senior White House budget official appeared for testimony Saturday morning before House impeachment investigators — a significant crack in President Donald Trump’s firewall that has prevented Democrats from learning critical details about the decision to freeze nearly 0 million of

White House budget official told Pentagon that order to hold Ukraine aid came from Trump, national security site "But does it appear suspicious given the damning nature of what was withheld, and the current "As part of our impeachment inquiry , the House subpoenaed these very documents.

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A senior White House budget official appeared for testimony Saturday morning before House impeachment investigators — a significant crack in President Donald Trump’s firewall that has prevented Democrats from learning critical details about the decision to freeze nearly $400 million of military aid to Ukraine.

Mark Sandy’s closed-door appearance alone was a breakthrough for Democrats, who have struggled to obtain testimony about what other officials have described as an order by the president to withhold the U.S. military assistance meant for Ukraine. Democrats have blamed the nagging mystery on an all-out blockade by the White House Office of Management and Budget, which has fought relentlessly to spurn requests and subpoenas seeking documents and witness testimony.

Sandy is a career non-political official at OMB and is expected to face questions about why the congressionally appropriated military aid was halted and how the decision was implemented — two key blind spots for Democratic investigators as they seek to make the case that Trump ordered the hold on the military aid and refused a White House meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky until the country would publicly commit to investigations of Trump’s political rivals, in particular former Vice President Joe Biden.

Officials who have already appeared before investigators — including Laura Cooper, who oversees Russia and Ukraine policy at the Pentagon — have testified that a senior OMB official announced the hold on aid during a secure video conference on July 18, setting off a scramble within the State Department, Pentagon, National Security Council and Joint Chiefs of Staff as officials sought to learn why the hold had been placed.

All of those departments and agencies had already signed off on the military aid, with OMB as the lone exception, outraging national security officials who argued the security assistance was critical to protect U.S. interests in the region and to help Ukraine fend off Russian aggression to its east.

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David Holmes, the political counsel at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv who was on the July 18 video conference, told investigators late Friday that NSC officials “could not determine the cause of the hold or how to lift it.” Holmes and Cooper, among other witnesses who were present, testified that the OMB official said acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney had placed the hold and that it had been ordered by the president.

Top administration officials from across the government were alarmed at the hold on military aid and sought to answer key questions that have stumped lawmakers, including what justification was given for the hold and how the order was implemented.

Sandy’s lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, said her client would testify if he receives a subpoena. The three House committees spearheading the inquiry have issued subpoenas to witnesses from across the government who were ordered not to testify.

Russell Vought, the acting OMB director, and Michael Duffey, OMB’s national security chief, were subpoenaed but have refused to appear for depositions or turn over documents related to the decision to withhold military assistance. Mulvaney, too, has spurned a subpoena seeking his testimony. A senior administration official accused House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) of “threatening” the potential witnesses “without the ability to even have agency counsel present.”

The hold on military aid was not publicly known until Aug. 28 when POLITICO revealed it, prompting lawmakers from both parties to inquire about the hold. Bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate have backed the security assistance for Ukraine as it has come under siege from Moscow.

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, testified that he told a senior Ukrainian official on Sept. 1 that the country would likely not receive the aid unless it committed to the politically motivated investigations Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, were seeking. Sondland is slated to testify in public next Wednesday.

The military aid was eventually released on Sept. 11 — but only after a whistleblower complaint detailed Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his rivals, and after House Democrats had launched an investigation targeting Giuliani, who was leveraging contacts in Ukraine in an effort to spur Trump’s desired probes.

Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.

'Fierce, focused and fearless': Fiona Hill emerges as a principled voice in impeachment inquiry .
Responding to the question of whether she is a "Never Trumper," Fiona Hill called it a "puzzling term" for nonpartisan officials.Dr. Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council official, delivered punchy lines of testimony and asserted her position as a witness in the inquiry who would present facts exactly as she knew them to be, persistent in the face of accusations of partisanship.

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