Congress was at a low simmer for most of this year, CNN reports, over what had happened to aid to Ukraine that it had authorized, and that concern and confusion was bipartisan. It had appropriated about $400 billion in combined military and other aid early in the year that was supposed to have been released starting as early as February. It wasn’t, because Donald Trump was withholding it, using it as extortion to get Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to manufacture dirt against Trump political rival Joe Biden.
A plethora of senators were regularly contacting the Defense Department, Department of State, and White House about the aid—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republicans Lindsey Graham, Ron Johnson, Rob Portman, as well as Democrats Bob Menendez, Dick Durbin, Chris Murphy, Jeanne Shaheen, and Richard Blumenthal. House members got involved, too, with Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel and the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Michael McCaul, pushing the White House—specifically Mick Mulvaney, who emerges at the center of this because of his dual roles as Office of Management and Budget director and Trump’s acting chief of staff.
CNN conducted more than a dozen interviews with members of Congress and top aides, who said that, “while they don’t remember the exact timeline of when they became aware there was an issue with Ukraine funding, there was a growing sense at the end of August that Congress needed to push the administration harder when it returned from its Augusts recess to release it.” Contemporaneous reporting from ABC backs that up. “Enough is enough. President Trump should stop worrying about disappointing Vladimir Putin and stand up for U.S. national security priorities,” said Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in August. “We have a responsibility to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty and deter Russia from further aggression.” The Pentagon was supposedly conducting a review of the funding, but had completed it by then, and no one knew what the hold-up was. At the time, “A State Department official declined to discuss internal deliberations and deferred questions to the White House. OMB did not respond to requests for comment.”
At the time, Murphy recalls, “Everything I had heard was that this was a decision made by the President. It was his decision and it was his decision alone.” The administration was also keeping Congress out of the loop on that decision. “We would have expected congressional notification that in fact monies were being held, and that would have elicited from us a briefing and normally we would have gotten a briefing,” Menendez told CNN.
“We’d been given signals twice by the administration that they were going to release the funds then nothing happened. In August we were told the OMB is holding it,” Durbin said. “They were withholding these funds that had been appropriated and signed into law by the President until the last two weeks of the fiscal year. That’s crazy. It hardly ever happens.”
Now we know why, and Mulvaney is at the very center of it, along with Trump. He needs to be high up on the list of people hauled before Congress to explain.