Speed Reads

Trump-Ukraine Scandal

U.S. diplomats worried about Trump withholding Ukraine aid, warned to downplay move, emails show

One of the questions House impeachment investigators are looking at is why President Trump quietly withheld $391 million in military and security aid to Ukraine from mid-July until late Sept. 11, a period in which Trump was pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and a widely debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 election, according to a White House partial transcript of Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and text messages released by his former Ukraine envoy, Kurt Volker. A whistleblower complaint about that July 25 call sparked the House impeachment inquiry.

U.S. diplomats involved with Ukraine were frustrated over the unexpected freeze of aid, already approved by Congress, and worried that it was tied to the two investigations Trump was demanding, The New York Times reports, citing newly unearthed State Department emails. And when they were informed early Sept. 12 that the money was being released, the diplomats were told to keep the news quiet.

Brad Freden, the State Department's acting deputy assistant secretary for Europe and Eurasia, emailed that he'd heard about the security assistance being released from Tim Morrison, Trump's top Russia adviser at the National Security Council. "Ukrainians are aware, but NSC said that in the spirit of the 'hold' being a normal review, there will be no public announcement that it has been lifted," he wrote. "Keep moving, people, nothing to see here ..."

William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine — who'd expressed concern in private text messages about Trump tying the aid to his re-election campaign — emailed back: "I will inform President Zelensky as soon as he is out of a meeting. We then intend to make it public here." But Freden counseled discretion: "In terms of public messaging, NSC is deliberately treating both the hold and its lifting as administrative matters. There won't be a public announcement on this end. My advice is to keep your public messaging low-key as well." Read more at The New York Times.