10/30/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 10/30/2019 11:09
WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, and U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper demanding answers regarding the Trump Administration's improper withholding of military aid to Ukraine and the Defense Department's role in the process.
The Senators are seeking information from Secretary Esper regarding President Trump's decision to manipulate national security assistance for his own political gain by halting the delivery of Congressionally-mandated security assistance funds to Ukraine; what role Pentagon officials played in the hold up; and who directed them to do so.
'The withholding of those funds raises serious concerns about the Department's management of security assistance and the Administration's compliance with its statutory obligations, potentially including the Impoundment Control Act of 1974,' Durbin andReed wrote. 'We are deeply concerned that the Administration decided to delay execution of this critical military aid to Ukraine and failed to inform the committees of this decision or provide a reason for the delay.'
Given the Trump Administration's shifting explanations for the freeze, Durbin and Reed are seeking answers from Secretary Esper about: the timeline of events; who directed the freeze and how it was communicated throughout the chain of command; whether anyone within the Department of Defense raised concerns about the freeze and how those concerns were handled; and why the Trump Administration failed to inform Congressional oversight committees of the delay in the execution of the Ukraine security assistance in a timely manner.
Full text of the letter is available below:
October 29, 2019
Dear Secretary Esper:
United States support to Ukraine has been vital to enabling Ukraine to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity against Russian aggression. The Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI) has been essential for building the capacity of the Ukrainian security forces to counter Russia and Russian-backed separatists and encourage the Ukrainian Government to institute necessary defense reforms. The withholding of those funds raises serious concerns about the Department's management of security assistance and the Administration's compliance with its statutory obligations, potentially including the Impoundment Control Act of 1974.
For fiscal year 2019, Congress authorized and appropriated $250 million for the USAI. On February 28th and May 23rd, 2019, the Department of Defense (DOD) notified the relevant congressional oversight committees of its plans for delivering this military assistance to Ukraine in two tranches, each estimated at $125 million. DOD officials briefed committee staff on the details of each of those tranches within weeks and the committees approved release of those funds promptly following each briefing.
Given the expeditious process between the Department and the congressional committees in approving the tranches of USAI funding, we are deeply concerned that the Administration decided to delay execution of this critical military aid to Ukraine and failed to inform the committees of this decision or provide a reason for the delay. It has been reported that around July 18th the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), at the direction of the President, directed the Departments of Defense and State to withhold security assistance funds for Ukraine. Yet, it was not until mid-August that in response to congressional inquiries, Defense and State officials told congressional staff that OMB had directed the funds be held up pending an 'interagency review,' without providing any explanation of the purpose of that review. These funds were not released until mid-September, resulting in the expiration of $34 million in DOD assistance to Ukraine - funds that would have been returned to the Treasury unspent had not Congress intervened to preserve the funding in the current continuing resolution.
In light of these events, we request that you provide us the following information in writing, no later than November 11th, 2019:
Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.