Trump froze aid to Ukraine, then White House went looking for a legal justification for the freeze

Bloomberg Politics / YouTube Trump Says He Put No Pressure 1574705114.jpg...
Bloomberg Politics / YouTube

House Republicans keep telling us that Donald Trump put a hold on $400 million of aid to Ukraine because he was concerned about corruption, even as impeachment witnesses keep telling us that it’s obvious he froze the aid as part of a pressure campaign to get Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 elections. So it’s fascinating to learn that Trump froze the aid in July and then waited until August before aides started trying to come up with an after-the-fact justification for the hold.

The White House counsel’s office is doing a records review—not to uncover the reality but to find out what exposure the White House will have through public records requests and to help concoct a defense for Trump—and, The Washington Post reports, what that records review has found is that acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney was emailing the Office of Management and Budget in early August looking for an after-the-fact legal justification for the freeze.

OMB director Russell Vought offered Mulvaney the cover he was looking for, saying the hold was legal as long as it was considered temporary, but officials at the National Security Council and State Department disagreed. And the mere fact that the White House was looking for a justification for the hold after it had been imposed kinda shows that all the “Trump was nobly concerned about corruption” claims from Republicans are as ridiculous as we always knew they were.

“One person briefed on the records examination said White House lawyers are expressing concern that the review has turned up some unflattering exchanges and facts that could at a minimum embarrass the president,” The Washington Post reports. Would it be a legal problem? Maybe, maybe not, but the bar for causing a political problem is a little lower. Then again, just this level of reporting from The Post should be a problem for Trump if we lived in a world in which Republicans cared about anything but raw political power and partisanship.

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