WASHINGTON—A senior Pentagon official clashed with the White House over its decision to freeze security aid to Ukraine, repeatedly warn-ing that the hold could complicate the administra-tion's ability to distribute the money before a congression-ally mandated deadline, according to unredacted emails obtained by an outside group.
Beginning in July, Elaine McCusker, the acting Pen-tagon comptroller, sent officials at the White House Office of Management and Budget emails in which she raised concerns about the legality of the hold on nearly $400 million in aid. Though Pentagon officials' frustra-tions were previously known, the emails, earlier versions of which had been redacted by the Justice Department, offer a new level of detail about Ms. McCusker's concerns.
Ms. McCusker's most dire predictions didn't come true—at one point she warned that $120 million or more of the aid was at risk of not being spent. But after the White House lifted its hold on Sept. 11, more than $35 million in aid didn't make it to Ukraine by the time the fiscal year ended at the end of that month.
The decision to freeze the aid to Ukraine was at the center of the House's investi-gation of President Trump, which resulted in his impeach-ment last month. The Senate is now expected to hold a trial, and Democrats are pushing for testimony from administra-tion officials in an effort to determine whether the decision to pause the aid was directly connected to Mr. Trump's desire for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open investigations that could benefit the president in the 2020 U.S. election. Mr. Trump has said he didn't make the aid contingent on the investigations.
A heavily redacted version of some documents related to the aid was obtained and released last month by the Center for Public Integrity through a public information request. Just Security, a group that publishes national security research and journalism, reviewed and published portions of the unredacted emails on Thursday. An administration official confirmed to The Wall Street Journal that the emails are authentic.
The Defense Department didn't respond to requests for comment. Ms. McCusker couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) called the emails "a devastating blow to Senator McConnell's push to have a trial without the documents and witnesses we've requested."
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) referred to comments the lawmaker made on the Senate floor last month. He said at the time that he wanted to put off any contentious resolutions—such as those calling witnesses—until a later phase of the trial.
The new emails reflect deep tension between Ms. McCusker and OMB. The relationship between Ms. McCusker and OMB slowly deteriorated, as senior officials at the office grew skeptical of her estimates of how much money was at risk of not being spent, according to people familiar with their interactions.
In response to the emails, OMB countered that Ms. McCusker's frustrations didn't reflect what they were hearing from other Pentagon officials.
"There was agreement every step of the way between DOD and OMB lawyers, who were responsible for working out the details of the hold, in line with the President's priorities," OMB spokes-woman Rachel Semmel said in a statement.
In her emails to OMB, Ms. McCusker raised concerns that the White House was violating the Impoundment Control Act, which requires that the executive branch spend money that has been appropriated by Congress.
After the administration imposed its hold on the aid in July and later extended it, Ms. McCusker objected to lan-guage included in a budget document by OMB that said the pause wouldn't prevent the Defense Department from spending the money.
"We hope it won't and will do all we can to execute once the policy decision is made, but can no longer make that declarative statement," she wrote in an Aug. 6 email to OMB officials.
Ms. McCusker also dis-agreed with talking points distributed by OMB after Politico first reported in late August that the aid had been put on hold. "No action has been taken by OMB that would preclude the obligation of these funds before the end of the fiscal year," the talking points said. The talking points asserted that the hold didn't preclude the money from being spent before the end of the fiscal year.
In response, Ms. McCusker wrote that the talking point about the aid was "not accurate from a financial execution standpoint, some-thing we have been consis-tently conveying for a few weeks." A senior administra-tion official said lawyers in the Pentagon's Office of the General Counsel reviewed, edited and signed off on the talking points, an assertion supported by a document reviewed by the Journal.
Ms. McCusker's frustra-tions escalated in early September. After she warned OMB that $120 million might not be able to be spent by the end of the fiscal year because of the hold, Michael Duffey, associate director of national security programs at OMB, responded with a letter that put the blame on the Defense Department for not doing enough to prepare to spend the funds if they were re-leased.
Ms. McCusker replied, in an exchange first reported by the New York Times, "You can't be serious. I am speech-less."
Andrew Restuccia, WSJ, January 2, 2020
January 4, 2020
Voices4America Post Script.With so much happening,including potential war caused by Trump's ineptitude plus serious #GOPWarAgainstWomen attack on Roe v Wade, it is hard to remember Trump abused our Constitution. #RememberImpeachRemove.
Here is more proof when we must #RemoveTrumpNow