It’s testament to the weirdness of Trump’s conduct in the Ukraine business that got him impeached that even after the House trial concluded, the trickle of damning information continues. The latest comes from the budget office, which directed the Pentagon to cut off military aid to the Ukraine a literal 90 minutes after Trump strong-armed President Zelensky on the infamous phone call. What’s even more important than the timing, though—these discussions dated at least back to June—is how the White House directed the Pentagon to stay mum. From the Times:
A budget official, Michael Duffey, also told the Pentagon to keep quiet about the aid freeze because of the “sensitive nature of the request,” according to a message dated July 25.
That call took place from 9:03 a.m. to 9:33 a.m. At 11:04 a.m., Mr. Duffey emailed Defense Department officials telling them of the aid, “Please hold off on any additional DoD obligations of these funds, pending direction from that process.” Obligation refers to the process of a government agency designating how funds will be spent.
In addition, he wrote, “Given the sensitive nature of the request, I appreciate your keeping that information closely held to those who need to know to execute the direction.”
We have the Center for Public Integrity to thank for last Friday’s email release, which came about (with heavy redactions) because of their FOIA request. As Paul Waldman notes, this makes it very clear why House Democrats wanted to speak with Duffy, and why he refused. Waldman’s theory, which is shared by many and seems to follow logically, is that Duffy requested the Pentagon’s silence because he knew the request from Trump was “problematic”:
That’s what Duffey surely meant when he talked about how “sensitive” the withholding of aid was. That’s how National Security Council lawyers reacted when they saw that Trump had strong-armed Zelensky on that infamous phone call; in a panic, they hid the transcript in a special server so it could be accessed by as few officials as possible to keep people from knowing what Trump had done. The common reaction when those around Trump learned of his moves on Ukraine seems to have been: Oh, my God. We have to keep this from getting out. And they were right. When it finally did become public, the result was the impeachment of the president.
All of which makes it laughable, to the point of absurdity, that Duffy (and Mick Mulvaney, who apparently told people that Trump had directed the aid to be frozen, and Mike Pompeo, who allegedly helped Trump, and John Bolton, who apparently opposed it) won’t be compelled to testify in the Senate trial. It’s a complete farce, with Mitch McConnell as ringleader, and it’s an abdication of the last vestiges of justice in our highest levels of government. We essentially live in a banana republic now, and if the likes of Duffy et al. aren’t at least made to take the stand and lie to protect the president, why do we even have rules?