September 24, 2019

Ranking Member Menendez Demands Investigation into Trump Administration’s Hold on Foreign Aid to Ukraine and Efforts to Spur Investigation of Political Opponents

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, this morning sent a series of letters demanding an urgent and full investigation into the Trump Administration’s efforts to block nearly $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine and whether the Administration sought to extract commitments from the Ukrainian government to take action against President Trump’s political opponents—a move that would bolster the President’s 2020 election prospects.

On June 21, the State Department notified the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) of its intent to provide Congressionally approved security assistance to Ukraine. Without explanation, and in a highly unusual move, OMB blocked the funds for over two months. Despite repeated requests, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was never informed of any substantive review of security assistance to Ukraine, or any legitimate policy reason that the funds directed by Congress for these particular purposes should be withheld.  

Menendez officially requested the Inspector General of the State Department to review the withholding of security assistance for Ukraine, including the role the Department played in withholding these funds and the reasons provided to Ukrainian officials. Menendez wrote: “If the President withheld the funds to extract commitments by the Ukrainian government to take action against a political opponent of the president, it would constitute an unacceptable abuse of power and subversion of U.S. foreign policy and foreign assistance funds under the purview of the State Department for the personal use of the President.”

In a separate letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Menendez demanded the State Department provide details and records regarding assistance to Ukraine, efforts or requests to investigate U.S. 2020 presidential candidates, and providing assistance to the President’s personal lawyer’s efforts to meet with Ukrainian officials.

“If the Department is facilitating efforts to condition foreign aid—appropriated by Congress—for reasons other than strategic or foreign policy interests of the United States, the circumstances and details of these efforts must be fully disclosed and explained to Congress,” wrote Menendez to Secretary Pompeo. “It is imperative, particularly under a president that appears willing to usurp the federal government for his own personal and political interests, that our institutions uphold the rule of law and fulfill their appropriate role in a functioning democracy.”

Lastly, Menendez sent a letter to OMB Director and Acting Chief of Staff to the President, Mick Mulvaney, calling on the Office of Management and Budget to explain to Congress why his office sat on Ukraine’s security assistance for more than two months and if the blocking of the funds was conducted under the orders of President Trump.

“Now, as details continue to come out about what the President said on his July 25, 2019, call to President Zelensky, as the President’s own lawyer confirms that he was also pushing Ukraine to take action against one of the President’s political opponents, and as it is becoming clear that the President in fact pressured Ukrainian officials, we must immediately understand whether, and to what extent, the President and his team converted duly-appropriated United States foreign assistance funds for his personal and political benefit, and what role federal agencies may have played in it,” concluded the Senator.

A copy of the Senator’s letter can be found here (IG), here (Pompeo), here (Mulvaney) and below. 

September 24, 2019

The Honorable Steve Linick

Inspector General

U.S. Department of State

Office of the Inspector General

SA-39

1700 North Moore Street

Arlington, VA 22209

Dear Inspector General Linick:

I request that you immediately open an investigation into the Trump Administration’s withholding of $141 million in foreign military assistance to Ukraine.

In a highly unusual move and without any legitimate explanation, earlier this year, $141.5 million in foreign military assistance funds designated for Ukraine was blocked. This came despite a recommendation in June by the Department of State that the funds be obligated. Just over two months later, without explanation, the funds were released by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department was able to move forward with the obligation. The release of funds occurred within days of a disclosure by the Intelligence Community Inspector General to Congress of a whistleblower complaint, now believed to be related to the President’s communications with Ukrainian officials, and congressional inquiries into the circumstances and content of the administration’s communications with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The release also came as a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee was preparing to vote to force the administration to release the funds.

Congress specifically earmarked and appropriated the $141.5 million in programming under Foreign Military Financing for Ukraine in Fiscal Year 2019. These funds are designed to help Ukraine's Armed Forces defend against Russian aggression and improve maritime security in the Black Sea.  The bill that appropriated these funds received majority votes in the House and Senate and was signed into law by the President.  

According to public reports and administration officials, the funds were held by OMB, perhaps at the President’s direction. Yet Congress has not been made aware of any substantive review of security assistance to Ukraine, or any legitimate policy reason that the funds directed by Congress for these particular purposes should be withheld. Moreover, if the President withheld the funds to extract commitments by the Ukrainian government to take action against a political opponent of the president, it would constitute an unacceptable abuse of power and subversion of U.S. foreign policy and foreign assistance funds under the purview of the State Department for the personal use of the President.

I therefore request that you urgently examine the circumstances surrounding the decision to withhold these funds. This review should include, at a minimum, an examination of:

  1. The extent to which the Department was involved in any decision or effort to withhold foreign military assistance funds;
  2. When and how the Department first learned foreign military assistance funds for Ukraine would not be immediately obligated;
  3. The reasons provided by the Office of Management and Budget for blocking the obligation of funds in question to Ukraine;
  4. Whether the Department or the Administration conducted any review of Ukraine assistance during the period the funds were withheld;
  5. What the Department communicated to Ukraine officials about these funds;
  6. Why the funds were blocked and then ultimately released;
  7. Whether the Department communicated, internally or externally, including with U.S. or Ukrainian officials, about efforts or requests to investigate any presidential candidates for the 2020 U.S. presidential election;
  8. Whether applicable laws and Department procedures were followed; and
  9. Communications between the White House and the Department, and OMB and the Department, regarding any of the above topics.

Please contact my staff to discuss the scope of this review and additional details. I look forward to hearing from you promptly on this matter.

Sincerely,

-30-

September 24, 2019

The Honorable Mike Pompeo

Secretary

Department of State

2201 C Street, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Secretary Pompeo:

I write seeking immediate details regarding the State Department’s role in delaying security assistance to Ukraine and facilitating meetings between the President’s personal attorney and Ukrainian officials to discuss a potential Ukrainian investigation intended to bolster the President’s 2020 election prospects. I understand from State Department officials that the White House provided the Department with no official reason for delaying security assistance to Ukraine for almost three months, which is highly disconcerting. The Department has also refused to provide any clarification about its interactions with the President’s personal attorney regarding Ukraine.

Executive branch agencies function to carry out the policies of an administration; they do not serve the president as an individual or as a political candidate. It is imperative, particularly under a president that appears willing to usurp the federal government for his own personal and political interests, that our institutions uphold the rule of law and fulfill their appropriate role in a functioning democracy. Yet at the moment, it remains an open question whether the Administration has altered its policy towards Ukraine or demanded specific action from a foreign nation to fulfill the President’s expressed wishes about a domestic political opponent. 

If the Department is facilitating efforts to condition foreign aid—appropriated by Congress—for reasons other than strategic or foreign policy interests of the United States, the circumstances and details of these efforts must be fully disclosed and explained to Congress. It remains unclear, on what basis, if any, these funds were delayed, as well as what the Department communicated to Ukraine about the delayed funds, which were then reinstated without explanation—and why the Department failed to communicate anything to Congress about this delay. 

Similarly, the Department must be crystal clear about its role with regard to the President’s personal lawyer, including arranging a meeting with Ukrainian government officials in Madrid last month. The Department has an obligation to make clear to Ukrainian officials, as well as other foreign governments, that the President’s personal attorney is not an official representative of the U.S. government. Any perception that the State Department is giving its imprimatur or allowing Mr. Giuliani’s private efforts to continue is highly problematic. Foreign governments must know who speaks with authority for our government.

I seek to understand how the Department has upheld these goals. To that end, and to assist the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in conducting its constitutional role in overseeing the State Department and matters of U.S. foreign policy, and to ascertain what legislative action may be necessary in response, please provide the following: 

  1. When and how you first learned $141.5 million in foreign military assistance for Ukraine would not be immediately obligated, and the extent of your role in deciding to suspend that assistance;
  2. Your understanding of the reasons for that delay, and documentation sufficient to demonstrate that understanding;
  3. A detailed explanation of why funds were ultimately delayed, and who made that decision;  
  4. All records in the Department’s custody or control[1] related to foreign military or security assistance for Ukraine received, originating from, sent, or created from September 1, 2018, up to and including the date of a complete response;
  5. All records in the Department’s custody or control related to efforts or requests to investigate any presidential candidates for the 2020 U.S. presidential election;
  6. All records in the Department’s custody or control between the Department and the White House; the Department and the NSC, and the Department and OMB relating to assistance to Ukraine, the President’s personal attorney, or efforts or requests to investigate any presidential candidates for the 2020 U.S. presidential election, from September 1, 2018, up to and including the date of a complete response; 
  7. All records in the Department’s custody or control with or related to the President’s personal attorney, including but not limited to records related to any efforts by the Department to support or facilitate any activities and meetings with him, whether in the United States, Ukraine, or elsewhere; and relating to any of his meetings with Ukrainian officials;
  8. A list of Department officials who were briefed by the President’s personal attorney about his communications or meetings with any Ukrainian government officials; and
  9. All records in the Department’s custody or control related to the President’s July 25 call with President Volodymyr Zelensky.

I appreciate your attention to this matter and request you respond by September 30, 2019.

Sincerely,

 

 

-30-

September 24, 2019

The Honorable Mick Mulvaney
Director
Office of Management and Budget
725 17th Street, NW,
Washington DC 20503
Dear Director Mulvaney:

I request immediate details regarding the role that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and you personally, played in blocking nearly $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine. Critical security assistance funds that were recommended by the Departments of Defense and State, passed with bipartisan majorities in both chambers of Congress, and signed into law by the President were unexplainably held up earlier this year by your office. The President’s recent admission that he raised one of his domestic political opponents in a call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, and sought to link him to unfounded corruption claims, adds new urgency to Congress’ existing questions about why security assistance funds were blocked.

In late June 2019, the State Department and Department of Defense recommended and prepared to obligate $141.5 million and $250 million, respectively, to support a range of military and security efforts. These funds, among other things, are designed to help Ukraine bolster training, equipment, and advisory efforts for Ukraine’s armed forces, better equip Ukraine to defend against Russian aggression, and improve maritime security in the Black Sea. Yet, OMB blocked the funds from reaching Ukraine. A routine notification from the State Department to OMB, which usually serves as a courtesy, was seized upon in an effort to withhold these funds indefinitely. Ukrainian officials were reportedly “blindsided.” For months, despite repeated inquiries from my office and others, administration officials have been unable to offer any policy justification for why these funds were blocked.

Now, as details continue to come out about what the President said on his July 25, 2019, call to President Zelensky, as the President’s own lawyer confirms that he was also pushing Ukraine to take action against one of the President’s political opponents, and as it is becoming clear that the President in fact pressured Ukrainian officials, we must immediately understand whether, and to what extent, the President and his team converted duly-appropriated United States foreign assistance funds for his personal and political benefit, and what role federal agencies may have played in it.

I request that you respond to the following no later than September 27, 2019:

  1. Who made the decision to withhold the funds?
  2. Did the President direct you to withhold these funds? If so, what reason did he give?
  3. In blocking or approving the blocking of these funds, were you acting as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, or Acting White House Chief of Staff?
  4. Did OMB conduct or direct any review of Ukrainian assistance or U.S. policy towards Ukraine?
  5. How was the decision communicated to the State Department and to which officials at the State Department was the decision communicated?
  6. What reason did OMB or the White House provide to the State Department for blocking the funds?
  7. What changed from the time the funds were withheld until they were released in early September, other than the fiscal year was about to come to a close?
  8. Please provide all records[1] in OMB’s custody or control relating to Ukraine or to any of the funds referenced above received, created, sent, or dated from September 1, 2018, through and including the date of complete response.

I look forward to your complete and prompt response.

Sincerely,

 

###



[1] The term “record” throughout this request means any written, typed, recorded, graphic, printed, or audio material of any kind, including documents, memoranda, cables, letters, facsimiles, calendar items, spreadsheets; transcripts, notes, or minutes of any meetings, telephone conversations or discussions; and electronic communications and attachments thereto, including emails, text messages, instant messages, direct messages (such as messages over iMessage, WhatsApp, Signal, Viper, Facebook, or Twitter) regardless of whether maintained, sent, or received on a government or non-government (i.e. personal) account.

[1] The term “record” means any written, typed, recorded, graphic, printed, or audio material of any kind, including documents, memoranda, cables, letters, facsimiles, calendar items, spreadsheets; transcripts, notes, or minutes of any meetings, telephone conversations or discussions; and electronic communications and attachments thereto, including emails, text messages, instant messages, direct messages (such as messages over iMessage, WhatsApp, Signal, Viper, Facebook, or Twitter) regardless of whether maintained, sent, or received on a government or non-government (i.e. personal) account.

Press Contact

Juan Pachon (202) 224-4651