Recently released emails show the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) knew more than previously disclosed about President Donald Trump’s brief hold on Ukrainian military aid last summer.
Obtained by legal blog Just Security, the new documents put the lie to OMB claims about how the Mick Mulvaney-led agency dealt with–and what OMB revealed to–other agencies in the federal government.
Specifically, the emails show that OMB was kept abreast of concerns about the hold leveled by the Department of Defense (DOD) and that OMB officials successfully kept those concerns from coming to light long enough for President Trump to be acquitted without his apparatchiks or defenders being pressed on the matter.
“Can we call you in 5,” OMB General Counsel Mark Paoletta asked his superior, OMB Acting Director Russell Vought in early August 2019, “DoD is being extraordinarily difficult.”
The Trump administration previously released a redacted version of the August 2019 Paoletta-Vought email in a huge document dump earlier this year, but Just Security received a separate unredacted copy of that same email tranche “under the condition that they not be reprinted.” Some of those emails are being reprinted now—and apparently it wasn’t just the Pentagon who was getting the run around from Mulvaney’s OMB.
“In fact, at no point during the pause in obligations did DOD indicate to OMB that, as a matter of law, the apportionments would prevent DOD from being able to obligate the funds before the end of the fiscal year,” Paoletta wrote in an early December 2019 letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), explaining in bureaucratese that the Pentagon‘s legal affairs division simply had not expressed any concerns about the legality of the White House’s Ukraine aid hold.
But Paoletta was simply lying.
A late August email from DOD Deputy Principle General Counsel Edwin “Scott” Castle expresses the Pentagon’s concerns about exactly that. Castle’s email also carbon copied DOD General Counsel Paul Ney—destroying any plausible OMB defense that the full chain of command was not apprised.
Again, the originally-released version of this email was redacted to the point of meaninglessness. But Just Security somehow managed to get the document in its entirety:
Elaine McCusker asked that I contact you and underscore her ongoing discussions with Mike Duffey concerning DOD’s obligation of funding for the USAI.
As I know you appreciate, expediting the interagency review of the USAI will facilitate DOD’s ability to fully and prudently obligate all $250 million appropriated for the initiative by September 30th, the date on which the funds expire. Thanks for your assistance in moving that review along.
As you know, we’re currently operating under an OMB-directed pause in obligations until August 26th. We previously obligated approximately $22 million and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) recently distributed $126 million to the MILDEPs for execution; those funds are pending obligation (and will not be obligated until OMB approves and OSD directs). Obligation deadlines for the remaining $102 million presumably are in the early-to-mid-September timeframe.
American Oversight commented on the recent revelations via its official Twitter account, noting that the emails “confirm OMB misled congressional investigators.”
— American Oversight (@weareoversight) February 11, 2020
[image via Alex Wong/Getty Images]