Update: President Trump confirmed on Tuesday that he withheld military aid from Ukraine over his concerns that the United States was contributing more than other European countries.
"My complaint has always been, and I’d withhold again and I’ll continue to withhold until such time as Europe and other nations contribute to Ukraine because they’re not doing it," Trump told reporters at the UN.
As the media stays as far away as possible from digging into the globetrotting financial adventures of Hunter Biden and his once-powerful father Joe, the Wall Street Journal has shifted the focus to an allegation that President Trump ordered his acting chief of staff to put a hold on $391 million in military aid to Ukraine more than a week before a July 25 phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky.
While the aid was approved by congress to help Ukraine in its ongoing conflict with Russia, Trump - along with advisers John Bolton, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and others - had a June discussion about pausing the assistance while the administration placed it under review, according to the report.
In July, Mr. Trump directed acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to do just that, and the decision was passed along to lower-level officials during a July 18 meeting, according to the official. The Washington Post first reported the news of the president’s directive to Mr. Mulvaney.
The official said the request reflected the president’s concerns about how the U.S. is spending aid money and whether U.S. allies are adequately contributing. The Pentagon has long been in favor of pressing forward on military aid.
Another administration official said the reasons given internally for the decision to hold up the funds were the lack of support from other countries to Ukraine and concerns about corruption in the country. Mr. Trump has repeatedly pointed to corruption in Ukraine in his calls for an investigation of Mr. Biden in recent days. -Wall Street Journal
On Monday, President Trump insinuated that he was vetting Ukraine before releasing the funds - telling reporters in New York: "It’s very important to talk about corruption," adding "If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?"
Later that day, Trump said he didn't threaten the aid if his top 2020 Democratic rival Joe Biden wasn't investigated - saying "I did not make a statement that you have to do this or I won’t give you aid," though he did add "I think it would probably, possibly have been OK if I did."
During the July 25 call between Trump and Volodymyr, Trump is said to have repeatedly urged the Ukrainian president to work with his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to investigate Biden and his son. Giuliani met with an official from the Ukrainian prosecutor general's office in June to discuss just that.
Messrs. Trump and Giuliani have pressed for an inquiry into Mr. Biden’s anticorruption efforts in Ukraine while he was vice president and while his son Hunter Biden had business interests there. Ukraine’s prosecutor general at the time said earlier this year he had no evidence of wrongdoing by Mr. Biden or his son. On Saturday, Joe Biden said he had never discussed with his son any overseas business dealings and accused Mr. Trump of abusing his office.
The administration’s reason for putting a hold on the Ukraine funds—which for weeks this summer proved elusive to lawmakers who were eager for answers—is at the center of the expanding investigation on Capitol Hill into whether there was any connection between the review of foreign aid and efforts by the president and Mr. Giuliani to urge Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden. The examination of Mr. Trump’s dealings with his Ukrainian counterpart is likely to escalate this week as Congress continues to probe a whistleblower complaint concerning Mr. Trump, an aspect of which involves the Ukraine call, according to a person familiar with the matter. -Wall Street Journal
Blood in the water, but not Biden's
Democratic lawmakers have seized on the situation - with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calling on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to launch an investigation into who directed the suspension of aid - and said it should be incorporated into a wider-ranging probe. Speaking from the Senate floor, McConnell said he urged the administration to release the aid "throughout July, August and early September," adding that he urged Esper to do so twice, and even mentioned it to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
And in a joint letter from the Democratic chairs of the House foreign affairs, intelligence and oversight committees, a subpoena was threatened against Pompeo if documents related to the decision weren't turned over by the State Department.
While Trump has suggested that the aid was withhold because other countries haven't done enough to help Ukraine financially, Vice President Mike Pence said one day after a September 2 meeting with Zelensky that "as President Trump had me make clear, we have great concerns about issues of corruption."
"There was a lot of consternation about why this was held up and what was going on," said Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, adding "I don’t remember ever hearing a clear response about what the holdup was."
Finally - one day before the Senate Appropriations Committee was scheduled to vote on a 2020 defense-spending bill attachment to force the release of funds to Ukraine, the White House ordered the hold lifted - releasing the military aid and $141 million in additional funds from the State Department.