President Donald Trump reportedly instructed his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to delay more than $390 million in military aid to Ukraine. According to The Washington Post, Trump’s demand was made at least a week before his July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president in which Trump allegedly urged Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up dirt on his potential election rival Joe Biden.
The call was reportedly part of a whistleblower complaint concerning Trump that was filed by someone working in U.S. intelligence. Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, has refused to turn the complaint over to congressional oversight committees despite facing pressure from Democrats to do so.
Trump on Monday defended the aid delay to Ukraine, saying he’d ordered the holdup because of concerns about corruption in Ukraine. The funds were finally transmitted on Sept. 11 after several months of delay, the Post reported.
“Why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?” Trump told reporters at a United Nations event, per The Wall Street Journal.
Trump later said the delay had not been employed as a tactic to pressure Zelensky.
“I put no pressure on them whatsoever,” Trump said, though quickly added: “I think it would probably, possibly have been OK if I did.”
Pres. Trump on his call with president of Ukraine: "There was no pressure put on them whatsoever. I put no pressure on them whatsoever. I could have. I think it might probably, possibly have been okay if I did, but I didn't." https://t.co/bi5p37V0MI #UNGA pic.twitter.com/c6hpp0Pj86
— ABC News (@ABC) September 23, 2019
Trump has admitted that he discussed Biden and his son Hunter during his July call with Zelensky ― though he’s insisted the conversation was “honorable.”
It was “largely congratulatory, with largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place and largely the fact that we don’t want our people like Vice President Biden and his son creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine,” Trump said Sunday about the July call.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said last week, however, that Zelensky had expressed concerns about his conversation with the U.S. president ― and the possible connection between the delayed aid package and the “inappropriate demands the Trump campaign was making of him.”
Murphy, who met with Zelensky during his visit to Ukraine earlier this month, said on Twitter that the Ukrainian leader was “VERY concerned about the cut off of aid, and VERY aware of the conversations that Rudy Giuliani was having with his team.”
Giuliani, Trump’s personattorney, appeared to admit last week that he had asked a Ukrainian official to “look into” Joe Biden.
Zelensky did not explicitly connect the two in our meeting, but he was VERY concerned about the cut off of aid, and VERY aware of the conversations that Rudy Giuliani was having with his team. I told him it was best to ignore requests from Trump’s campaign operatives. He agreed.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) September 20, 2019
Several Democratic lawmakers have since called for the launch of impeachment proceedings against the president.
On Monday, seven freshman House Democrats said in a Washington Post op-ed that if the allegations related to Trump’s call with Zelensky are true, “we believe these actions represent an impeachable offense.”
“The president of the United States may have used his position to pressure a foreign country into investigating a political opponent, and he sought to use U.S. taxpayer dollars as leverage to do it,” the lawmakers wrote in the Post. “He allegedly sought to use the very security assistance dollars appropriated by Congress to create stability in the world, to help root out corruption and to protect our national security interests, for his own personal gain.”
“These allegations are stunning, both in the national security threat they pose and the potential corruption they represent,” the Democrats added.
This article has been updated throughout with details on the controversy.