New light on timing of Trump's release of Ukraine aid

US President Donald Trump faced bipartisan pressure from Congress when he released the aid.
US President Donald Trump faced bipartisan pressure from Congress when he released the aid.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump had already been briefed on a whistle blower's complaint about his dealings with Ukraine when he unfroze military aid for the country in September.

Two people familiar with the matter said lawyers from the White House counsel's office told Mr Trump in late August about the complaint, explaining that they were trying to determine whether they were legally required to give it to Congress.

The revelation could shed light on Mr Trump's thinking at two critical points under scrutiny by impeachment investigators: his decision in early September to release US$391 million (S$534 million) in security assistance to Ukraine and his denial to a key ambassador around the same time that there was a "quid pro quo" with Kiev.

Mr Trump faced bipartisan pressure from Congress when he released the aid.

But the new timing detail shows he was also aware at the time that the whistle blower had accused him of wrongdoing in withholding the aid and in his broader campaign to pressure Ukraine's new President, Mr Volodymyr Zelensky, to conduct investigations on his Democratic rival for the presidency Joe Biden and his son that could benefit Mr Trump's re-election chances.

The complaint from the whistle blower, a CIA officer who submitted it to the inspector-general for the intelligence community in mid-August, put at the centre of that pressure campaign a July 25 phone call between the presidents, which came at a time when Mr Trump had already frozen the aid to the Ukrainian government. Mr Trump asked that Mr Zelensky "do us a favour", then brought up the investigations he sought, alarming White House aides who conveyed their concerns to the whistle blower.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump on Tuesday denied directing his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to go to Ukraine to look for dirt on his political rivals, in an interview with former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly.

Mr Giuliani has said he conducted a probe "concerning 2016 Ukrainian collusion and corruption" on Mr Trump's behalf. Mr Giuliani is under investigation in relation to his activities in Ukraine.

NYTIMES, BLOOMBERG

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2019, with the headline 'New light on timing of Trump's release of Ukraine aid'. Print Edition | Subscribe