President Donald Trump's decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine has been a key point of contention in House impeachment hearings, as Trump-defending Republicans have argued that the hold on the aid just coincidentally came during a time when the president was pressing the Ukrainian government to investigate his prospective 2020 political opponent.
However, Just Security has now examined unredacted emails that show officials within the Pentagon viewed Trump's Ukraine aid hold with increasing alarm and were concerned that the president was breaking the law.
The emails show that key legal concerns about the Ukraine funding were regularly raised by Elaine McCusker, the acting Pentagon comptroller, who argued that the White House would be breaching the Impoundment Control Act if it did not send Congress a notification that it was withholding the aid.
One of the key emails came on August 26th last year, when McCusker asked Michael Duffey, associate director of national security programs at the Office of Management and Budget, for a status update on paperwork that needed to be filed to keep the administration's hold legal.
“What is the status of the impoundment paperwork?” McCusker asked him.
“I am not tracking that. Is that something you are expecting from OMB?” Duffey replied.
"Yes, it is now necessary -- legal teams were discussing last week," she replied.
In an email sent the next day, McCusker accused OMB legal officials of being willfully blind to the legal concerns she was raising about the hold.
"This situation is... made particularly difficult because OMB lawyers continue to consistently mischaracterize the process -- and the information we have provided," she wrote. "They keep repeating that this pause will not impact DOD’s ability to execute on time."
In reality, argued the DOD in a previously undisclosed letter, the pause was definitely hurting the Pentagon's ability to distribute aid in a timely manner.
"We have repeatedly advised OMB officials that pauses beyond Aug. 19, 2019 jeopardize the Department’s ability to obligate USAI funding prudently and fully, consistent with the Impoundment Control Act," the Pentagon wrote.