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White House Budget Office Defends Holdup of Ukraine Aid as ‘Pending a Policy Decision’ in Memo

Flags of European Union, Ukraine and the U.S. fly in central Kiev, Ukraine September 25, 2019. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has drafted a memo casting the delay in the provision of military aid to Ukraine as a routine exercise intended to assure that the funds would be properly spent. This account pushes back on Democrats’ assertion that the aid was delayed for political reasons.

The memo, reviewed by The Washington Post, cited numerous examples of Congress holding up aid to ensure its proper allocation and questioned why lawmakers were not motivated to do the same in this particular instance.

OMB general counsel Mark Paoletta wrote the memo to respond to a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) request, which sought an explanation as to why the aid had been delayed. Paoletta does not deny the aid was delayed by the administration, and states that the hold was placed “pending a policy decision” from the administration.

But the memo stresses that the Defense Department indicated to its staff that it didn’t intend to release most of the security funds to Ukraine until September, when it was released, and that “at no point during the pause” did DoD attorneys tell OMB that the Ukrainian funding would not be spent by the end of the fiscal year.

He also cites a previous GAO decision that did not require OMB to notify Congress of the delay.

“Often, in managing appropriations, OMB must briefly pause an agency’s legal ability to spend those funds for a number of reasons, including to ensure that the funds are being spent efficiently, that they are being spent in accordance with statutory directives, or to assess how or whether funds should be used for a particular activity,” Paoletta wrote.

The Post reports that the same day the internal discussions began over the aid on June 19, Trump apparently read an article in the Washington Examiner about the Pentagon’s plans to send $250 million in weapons to Ukraine. According to the administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the article made Trump question the decision, and “set off a scramble to answer his questions about the aid.”

In testimony released on November, Office of Management and Budget staffer Mark Sandy told members of Congress that two OMB staffers resigned partly due to “frustrations about not understanding the reason for the hold” in military aid, a claim the memo denies.

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