White House officials attempted to justify the decision to block aid to Ukraine after the impeachment process started, according to emails reviewed by The Washington Post.
The emails, which are confidential and were recovered by the White House Counsel’s Office, show that chief of staff Mick Mulvaney had email exchanges with White House budget officials where he tried to sort out a justification for the U.S.' decision to withhold nearly $400 million in aid.
Mulvaney’s conversations were conducted in early August. The impeachment inquiry was announced in September. The White House Counsel’s office launched its probe following the announcement of the probe.
The hold on the aid is at the center of the House impeachment probe.
Democrats say Trump did so to force an investigation by Ukraine into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
The probe started following Trump's July 25th phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy where Trump asked his counterpart to launch an investigation into the Bidens, a request that led to a whistleblower complaint that accused the president of using the power of his office to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election.
A source told the Post that some of the exchanges in the emails recovered by the White House Counsel’s Office could embarrass the president and paint an unflattering picture of White House operations, though Office of Management and Budget spokeswoman Rachel K. Semmel described the conversations as routine.
“There was a legal consensus at every step of the way that the money could be withheld to conduct the policy review,” Semmel told the Post. “OMB works closely with agencies on executing the budget. Routine practices and procedures were followed, not scrambling.”
One of the email exchanges showed OMB staffers and acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought arguing that withholding legal aid was legal, while officials at the National Security Council and State Department protested, per the Post. OMB lawyers said it was OK as long as the aid was only withheld temporarily.
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