Trump impeachment: White House budget official defies president to testify on withholding Ukraine military aid

Mark Sandy is the first White House budget official to break ranks with administration and speak to House investigators

Chris Riotta
New York
Saturday 16 November 2019 20:03
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The White House budget officer has defied Donald Trump's orders and met with House investigators leading an impeachment inquiry into the president to give evidence about the administration's withholding of crucial military aid to Ukraine.

Mark Sandy, a career official at the White House Office of Management and Budget, delivered a potentially damning closed-door testimony on Saturday about the timeline and events surrounding the decision to freeze aid.

Mr Trump has been accused of withholding the military assistance — which allows Ukraine to battle back against a Russian insurgency — while demanding Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky commit to investigating one of his political rivals, Joe Biden, in a public statement. The allegations were first noted in a whistleblower complaint about Mr Trump’s 25 July phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart, which sparked the impeachment inquiry against him.

House investigators are probing the administration’s decision to withhold $250m (£193.7m) in military assistance after it was approved by Congress and sent to the Office of Management and Budget on 18 June.

The investigators are also looking into the administration’s withholding of $141m (£109.2m) from the US State Department, after it notified the White House budget office the additional funds were ready to be sent to Ukraine three days after the Pentagon approved the congressional funds.

Altogether, the military aid package amounted to nearly $400m (£309.9m) and featured lethal resources, including Javelin anti-tank missiles.

The White house budget office conducts reviews of such financial packages that normally last about five days, NPR reported, before approving them for release. The office is required by law to notify Congress within 45 days on whether it requires a delay or withholding of the assistance, as well as to provide information about why the funds are being withheld.

The military aid to Ukraine was withheld for nearly 82 days, however, and it remains unclear whether the White House budget office notified the State Department or the Pentagon about the decision.

Key impeachment witnesses have said the president was intent on getting Ukraine to investigate Mr Biden, who at the time was the front-runner in the 2020 Democratic primaries, as well as his long-held, unfounded beliefs that the country was behind foreign election interference rather than Russia.

Mr Trump has often said without evidence that Ukraine meddled in the US election in support of his former opponent, Hillary Clinton, despite the intelligence community finding the Kremlin to instead have interfered in his favour.

With his closed-door testimony before House investigators during the weekend, Mr Sandy became the first White House official from the Office of Management and Budget to testify in Mr Trump’s impeachment.

He was issued a subpoena by House investigators to provide details about the decision to withhold the funds, which were later released in September. The White House released the military assistance shortly after House committees launched investigations into the president’s dealings with Ukraine and Democrats threatened to withhold Pentagon spending in the next congressional budget.

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Mr Sandy was serving in the White House before the president’s election and previously agreed to testify if he was issued a subpoena.

"All I expect him to say is he doesn’t know why the aid was held and wished that he did,” Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican and close ally to the president, told the Associated Press, adding: “But I may be surprised.”

Diplomats who worked on US-Ukraine relations have testified they were not provided any explanation as to why the White House was withholding the military assistance.

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