#UkraineDocs

Published — December 21, 2019

Live Blog: Digging into the #UkraineDocs

Updates on what we’re finding

Introduction

Updated Dec. 21, 2019

The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates betrayals of public trust. Sign up to receive our stories.

Late on Dec. 20, the Department of Justice sent a batch of documents to the Center for Public Integrity showing communications between the White House and the Pentagon regarding U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

The documents were delivered under court order after Public Integrity won a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Defense Department, seeking details on President Donald Trump’s delay of the aid after he pressed Ukraine’s prime minister to open investigations on the 2016 presidential election and former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.

As was the case with a similar document dump Dec. 12, large swaths of the 146 pages Public Integrity received were blacked out. Nonetheless, the documents contained nuggets that shed light on the episode that led to Trump’s impeachment Dec. 18.

Two emails jumped out at us. A June 19 message from a White House Office of Management and Budget official queried the Pentagon’s chief financial officer about the aid. “The President has asked about this,” he wrote, including an article that had appeared that day in the Washington Examiner discussing the funds. That’s the first indication of the White House taking a focused interest in military aid to Ukraine.

And a July 25 email to the Pentagon from the same official shows how sensitive the issue was and how eager the Trump administration was to hide it from others. The email includes a written instruction that the Pentagon  “please hold off on” distribution of the funds and says that “given the sensitive nature of the request” the information should be “closely held.” It went out 91 minutes after the end of the now-infamous call between Trump and Ukraine’s prime minister, Vlodymyr Zelensky, timing that may have been coincidental given that the aid was held up by Trump earlier that month.

Join in on Twitter using the hashtag #UkraineDocs to let us know if you find something we should look at more closely. Questions or tips? Email us at tips@publicintegrity.org.

You can read our main story with a summary of what was contained in the documents here.


Good Night (12:53am)

Thanks for reading along with us, we’re calling it a night. Check our homepage for more coverage.

Relief Once Aid Finally Flowed (12:42am)

Word that the White House was releasing its hold on aid to Ukraine was met with relief from the officials discussing the security assistance. The official order was signed on Sept. 12, but in an email late on Sept. 11 Duffey notified the Pentagon of the shift.

“Glad to have this behind us,” he wrote.

By Early July, When White House Was Asking, Little Ukraine Money Spent (12:34am)

Just as the White House was starting to ask a series of questions about the plans for the Ukraine aid, the Pentagon’s chief financial officer provides an update on July 2 that reveals only $7 million of the total $250 million in planned military aid had been spent at that point. That means the vast bulk of the funds, funds that Ukrainian officials said were desperately needed, were still up in the air.

When Trump talked with Zelensky later that month, the figures hadn’t changed much. By Aug. 15, only $36 million had been spent.

Odd Email Duplicate (12:24am)

We’re not really sure what to make of this one. It appears that Duffey sent out the same email ordering the Pentagon to hold funds for Ukraine roughly four hours after the initial order to the Defense Department. Got any idea what might be going on here? Give us a holler. (tips@publicintegrity.org or @publicintegrity)

UPDATE: A smart reader points out this might be a case of a duplicate email found in the inbox of a recipient in a different time zone four hours ahead.

Immediately After Zelensky Call, White House Puts Hold on Aid (12:05am)

We knew that the White House put an official hold on military aid to Ukraine on July 25, the same day President Trump talked with Ukraine’s Prime Minister Volodymyr Zelensky. What we didn’t know is how soon after that call ended that the White House issued its order.

The rough transcript released by the White House lists the call as taking place between 9:03 and 9:33 in the morning.

At 11:04 am, a little more than an hour later, Duffey sent an email to the Deputy Secretary of Defense (David Norquist) and to the chief of staff to the Defense Secretary and the Pentagon’s chief financial officer telling them to hold the aid.

“Based on guidance I have received and in light of the Administration’s plan to review assistance to Ukraine, including the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, please hold off on any additional DoD obligations of these funds, pending direction from that process.”

Duffey clearly understood that the hold could raise questions.

“Given the sensitive nature of the request, I appreciate your keeping that information closely held to those who need to know to execute direction.”

A formal notification would be sent later that day, but this was the first clear sign that the aid was being held, and it came immediately after the phone call.

Trump Starts Asking about Ukraine Aid (11:47pm)

The first interesting tidbit we’ve found is that President Trump apparently saw a June 19 Washington Examiner article discussing the congressionally approved military aid for Ukraine totalling $250 million.

Michael Duffey, the White House official in the Office of Management and Budget responsible for overseeing national security money, asked the Pentagon’s chief financial officer about the plan to support Ukraine the same day the article is published.

“The President has asked about this funding release, and I have been tasked to follow-up with someone over there to get more detail.”

The Docs Are Here! ( 11:35pm)

We’re just beginning to dig into the documents that were sent over late this evening. Stay tuned.

Last Week’s Release (6:00pm)

The documents handed over to Public Integrity on Dec. 12 were covered in a black sea of redactions. You can take a look at them here. We wrote about the details we could read between the black bars here. And if you’re interested in a timeline of some critical events in the ongoing Ukraine saga, take a look here.

Background

On Dec. 18 the U.S. House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. It’s the culmination of a scandal surrounding Trump’s request that Ukraine announce investigations into its supposed support for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and lucrative links that former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter forged with a Ukrainian company.

One of the central questions that dominated the impeachment hearings is whether Trump pressured Ukraine’s president, Vlodymyr Zelensky, by withholding nearly $400 million in congressionally approved aid, including $250 million in military aid funneled through the Pentagon. 

In September the Center for Public Integrity requested access to documents relating to those Pentagon funds under the Freedom of Information Act. After Public Integrity won a brief but intense battle with the Justice Department, a federal district judge ordered that the agency hand over 292 pages of internal communications between Dec. 12 and Dec. 20.

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