The Pentagon was confused. Hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine had been appropriated in late 2018 by Congress, intended to help fend off aggression by neighboring Russia. But well into 2019, as summer was edging toward autumn, the funds had still not moved.
Department of Defense officials began to worry that the funds would never make it to Ukraine, since the appropriations would expire with the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. They even began to prepare a legal challenge to the freezing of the funds, leading to an unprecedented fight within the Trump administration.
Since then, the Ukraine affair has turned into an impeachment inquiry that could see President Trump removed from office. But it is also an example of yet another federal agency — this time, the Pentagon — caught off-guard by the president’s political imperatives.
Before impeachment was ever an issue, the military funding for Ukraine seemed a settled matter. In late May, John Rood, an undersecretary of defense for policy, sent a letter to Congress outlining at great length the kinds of weapons, defense systems and other forms of aid Ukraine could expect. Theses included everything from radars to demining vehicles to rifle sights to training for that country’s military.
“Implementation of this further support will begin no sooner than 15 days following this notification,” Rood wrote. He added, a little later in the document, that the U.S. “remains committed” to helping Ukraine “defend its territorial integrity.”
But that commitment would waver drastically in the months to come, causing anxiety and puzzlement both in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill, and putting military officials into a confrontation with other members of the Trump administration, who were seemingly more intent on carrying out the president’s political goals than in helping a foreign ally. [Continue reading…]
At least four national security officials were so alarmed by the Trump administration’s attempts to pressure Ukraine for political purposes that they raised concerns with a White House lawyer both before and immediately after President Trump’s July 25 call with that country’s president, according to U.S. officials and other people familiar with the matter.
The nature and timing of the previously undisclosed discussions with National Security Council legal adviser John Eisenberg indicate that officials were delivering warnings through official White House channels earlier than previously understood — including before the call that precipitated a whistleblower complaint and the impeachment inquiry of the president.
At the time, the officials were unnerved by the removal in May of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, by subsequent efforts by Trump’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani to promote Ukraine-related conspiracies, as well as by signals in meetings at the White House that Trump wanted the new government in Kiev to deliver material that might be politically damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. [Continue reading…]