Secrets and Spreadsheets
December 13, 2019

The Defense Department and White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) complied with a court order Thursday to give a watchdog group documents relating to President Trump's decision to withhold $400 million in security aid from Ukraine, but the initial 146 pages were heavily redacted. "Every substantive exchange between officials at the agencies was blacked out," said the Center for Public Integrity, which obtained the documents through the Freedom of Information Act. The group plans to challenge the redactions in court.

The documents center on the conversations Pentagon and OMB officials had about the legality and propriety of Trump's decision, now at the center of Trump's impeachment. "Any potentially interesting bits are redacted," said Margaret Taylor, a former State Department lawyer and Senate staffer.

Midlevel officials testified in the impeachment hearings that the hold on the Ukrainian aid was first announced July 18, sparking confusion and concern from national security officials and diplomats. Two officials said they learned of the freeze as early as July 3. OMB lawyers claimed Wednesday that the freeze of aide was routine and legal. Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said in an October press conference that Trump ordered the aid withheld in part to get Ukraine to investigate Democrats.

In a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky, Trump followed up Zelensky's request for military aid by asking him to "do us a favor though" and investigate Joe Biden and a baseless conspiracy theory involving a Democratic server. The aid was released Sept. 11, after Congress started investigating a whistleblower complaint about that call.

The White House, Pentagon, and State Department have directed employees not to cooperate with the impeachment investigation, and those that defied the order were denied access to records that corroborate their testimony. One of the two articles of impeachment charges Trump with obstruction of Congress, citing his administration's failure to hand over "a single document or record" from the Pentagon and OMB. Peter Weber

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