White House withheld Ukraine aid just after Zelensky call


WASHINGTON:    The White House sought to freeze aid to Ukraine just 91 minutes after President Trump spoke to President Volodymyr Zelensky by phone in July, a newly-released government email has revealed.
In the call, Trump asked the Ukrainian leader to investigate his political rival, Democrat Joe Biden.
Democrats say it shows Trump used the office for personal political gain. The fateful phone call is key to the abuse of power charge on which Trump has been impeached.
A US whistleblower who heard about the conversation raised concerns, which ultimately triggered the impeachment inquiry.
Trump was formally impeached by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on Wednesday, but is unlikely to be removed from office as the case will go to trial in the US Senate, where his Republican party has a majority.
The newly-released email was obtained by the Center for Public Integrity following a court order in a freedom of information case.
It shows that a senior White House official, Mike Duffey, contacted senior defence officials about withholding Ukraine’s aid just over an hour-and-a-half after Mr Trump ended a 25 July call with President Zelensky.
A rough transcript of that call was declassified by the White House following a whistleblower complaint it was being covered-up.
The transcript shows Mr Trump asked Mr Zelensky to “do us a favour” and investigate Joe Biden, currently a frontrunner to be the Democratic candidate in the 2020 White House race, and his son Hunter Biden, who had previously worked for a Ukrainian energy company.
In the email Mr Duffey asks that the Department of Defense “hold off” on providing aid following the administration’s plan to review. “Given the sensitive nature of the request, I appreciate your keeping that information closely held to those who need to know to execute direction,” the email reads.
Rachel Semmel, a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget, dismissed the characterisation of the email in a statement to US media.
“It’s reckless to tie the hold of funds to the phone call. As has been established and publicly reported, the hold was announced in an interagency meeting on July 18,” CNN quoted her as saying. “To pull a line out of one email and fail to address the context is misleading and inaccurate.”