The Slatest

Trump Held Up $400 Million in Aid Ahead of Call Pressing Ukraine President to Investigate Biden Family

President Trump, standing at a podium, pulls an audio ear bud out of his ear during a news conference.
There is mounting evidence suggesting Trump abused his office to pressure Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky into digging up dirt on the Bidens. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

There is mounting evidence suggesting President Donald Trump abused his office to pressure Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky into digging up dirt on political rival Joe Biden and his family. Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that during the July call with the Ukrainian leader that prompted a whistleblower to step forward, Trump “repeatedly” pressed Zelensky to investigate the former vice president’s son, Hunter Biden. Now the Washington Post reports that days ahead of that call, Trump ordered chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to withhold nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine.

The order came roughly a week ahead of a call between the two leaders where Trump made his ask for political dirt, as many as eight times during the phone exchange. The aid message was relayed from the Office of Management and Budget to the State Department with the justification that the president had “concerns” about how the money was being spent. The line to lawmakers on the holdup was to be that it was the result of the “interagency process.” This was the Trump administration’s position for months before the funds were released on Sept. 11 after, according to GOP Senators, the Democratic senator from Illinois, Richard Durbin, threatened to freeze billions in Pentagon funding in the military aid wasn’t delivered to Kyev. The new talking point the Trump administration—and Trump himself—seems to be coming around to is that the holdup was due to concerns over “a lot of corruption in Ukraine.”

The dots do not yet connect to an explicit quid pro quo, but if we’ve learned anything over the past million years of the Trump presidency—that’s not how quid pro quo’s work. Let’s just say the proverbial gun is starting to billow smoke. Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy told the Post that Zelensky himself expressed concerns about the phone call during the Democrat’s visit to Ukraine in early September. The Ukrainian leader said “the aid that was being cut off to Ukraine by the president was a consequence” of his reluctance to investigate Hunter Biden. “Hunter Biden served for nearly five years on the board of Burisma, Ukraine’s largest private gas company, whose owner came under scrutiny by Ukrainian prosecutors for possible abuse of power and unlawful enrichment. Hunter Biden was not accused of any wrongdoing in the investigation,” according to the Post. “As vice president, Joe Biden pressured Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who Biden and other Western officials said was not sufficiently pursuing corruption cases—at one point, threatening to withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees. At the time, the investigation into Burisma was dormant, according to former Ukrainian and U.S. officials.”