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Previously Unreleased Defense Dept. Email Confirms Trump Made ‘Final Decision’ on Withholding Ukraine Aid


An anti-corruption government watchdog group on Friday evening released a new batch of emails obtained from the Department of Defense which confirm that President Donald Trump made the “final decision” to withhold U.S. military aid to Ukraine over the protests of his own cabinet advisors. The electronic communications were obtained by American Oversight in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FIOA) request regarding the administration’s decision-making process in the matter.

The latest batch of emails show one of the Defense Department’s top attorneys telling Pentagon comptroller Elaine McCusker that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and then-National Security Adviser John Bolton had all advised President Trump to release the military aid to Ukraine, but the final decision was ultimately up to President Trump.

“Ma’am, I’ve learned that there is no ongoing interagency review process with respect to USAI [Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative],” DoD Principal Deputy General Counsel William S. Castle wrote.

“A DSG unanimously agreed that USAI should continue as planned; National Security Director Bolton and Secretaries Pompeo and Esper all concur. Final decision rests with POTUS.”

The American Oversight report notes that the content of Castle’s email directly contravenes the Trump administration’s defense of the decision to withhold the aid.

“In emails and formal apportionment ‘footnotes’ beginning on July 25, 2019, Office of Management and Budget [OMB] officials repeatedly told the Defense Department that the Ukraine aid freeze was necessary to allow for an ‘interagency process to determine the best use of such funds,’” the report stated, adding, “Administration officials had also been instructed to tell Congress that this was the reason for the delay of funding.”

Castle’s email is part of 238 pages of Defense Department emails released Friday by American Oversight, the tenth set of Ukraine-related records publicly revealed by the group’s FOIA efforts.

“Tonight’s document release is a reminder that before they lined up” to “parrot the president’s line on Ukraine aid, senior members of the president’s national security team unanimously disagreed with his decision to withhold aid from Ukraine,” American Oversight’s executive director Austin Evers said of the report.

“Honesty and the national interest succumbed to demands for blind loyalty. While the president’s allies in Congress engaged in catastrophic credulity in the face of facts, the president cannot outrun the truth or, ultimately, the judgment of the American people.”

Georgetown University Law Center professor and former Obama administration National Security Council attorney Joshua A. Geltzer said the emails eliminated any doubt as to who held up the military aid and why.

[Image via MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images.]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.