President Trump has claimed repeatedly that he had the welfare of the United States in mind when he withheld military aid to Ukraine and pressured its president to investigate the Bidens. The impeachment inquiry yielded a mountain of evidence suggesting otherwise, much of it surrounding the involvement of Rudy Giuliani, who as Trump’s personal lawyer probably shouldn’t have been wheeling and dealing with Ukrainian officials regarding matters related to U.S. national security.
On Sunday, The New York Times published a sprawling account of the administration’s belabored efforts to hold up the $391 million in military aid Congress approved to send to Ukraine. It included a telling anecdote highlighting the absurdity of Giuliani’s involvement:
“[Acting White House Chief of Staff] Mulvaney is said by associates to have stepped out of the room whenever Mr. Trump would talk with Mr. Giuliani to preserve Mr. Trump’s attorney-client privilege, leaving him with limited knowledge about their efforts regarding Ukraine. Mr. Mulvaney has told associates he learned of the substance of Mr. Trump’s July 25 call weeks after the fact.”
It’s bizarre enough that Trump essentially deputized his personal lawyer to carry out U.S. foreign policy in Ukraine. Even more concerning is that his dealings were shielded from actual government officials under the guise of attorney-client privilege. It’s hard to argue this was done for any reason other than a below-board drive to advance Trump’s personal interests. Otherwise, why would Mulvaney — who was deeply involved in the effort to withhold the aid, as the Times’ report reminds us, and ostensibly working to achieve the same objectives — be asked to leave?
Again showing this was for Trump’s personal political benefit:
“Mulvaney is said by associates to have stepped out of the room whenever Mr Trump would talk with Mr Giuliani to preserve Mr Trump’s attorney-client privilege…about their efforts regarding Ukraine.” https://t.co/7eIvTBMzYY
— Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) December 29, 2019
The privileged conversation between Trump and Giuliani wasn’t the only new information in the Times‘ report indicating Trump may not have had the purest of intentions when he decided to block the aid. Also detailed is the fierce opposition to the move from lawmakers, the Pentagon, and Trump’s own Cabinet officials. According to The Times, in late August, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and then-National Security Adviser John Bolton met with Trump in the Oval Office to produce a “united front” in convincing him to release the aid.
“This is in America’s interest,” said Bolton.
“This defense relationship, we have gotten some really good benefits from it,” added Esper.
Trump didn’t budge.
The report also outlines the enormous logistical burden of withholding the aid, which had already been approved by Congress and the Pentagon. The administration, particularly the Office of Management and Budget, sparred with the Pentagon throughout the summer over the aid, at the same time working to fashion a legal rationale for the president to circumvent Congress’ authority to allocate it. The Times even notes that a “veteran budget official who raised questions about the legal justification was pushed aside.”
Reversing course and releasing the aid never seemed to be an option, and the president never provided officials with an actual reason he wanted to withhold the aid. He probably told Giuliani, though. Unfortunately, those conversations were privileged.