Peters Presses for Answers on Ukraine Aid Delay Following Whistleblower Complaint

Peters Warns of Possible Chilling Effect on Whistleblowers Government-Wide

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is seeking answers from the Trump Administration following reports and disclosures in a whistleblower complaint that Congressionally-approved military aide for Ukraine was temporarily suspended as leverage for the President’s personal and political gain. As a former Lieutenant Commander in the U. S. Navy Reserve and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Peters is alarmed by reports that the President may have put American national security at risk by withholding military aid that is critical to Ukraine’s ability to defend itself from Russian aggression.

In a letter to Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Mick Mulvaney, Peters pressed for information regarding the delayed distribution of $391 million in military and security aid for Ukraine, including whether aid was intentionally delayed and who requested the delay. A whistleblower disclosure, which the Intelligence Community’s watchdog subsequently determined was credible and met the definition of an “urgent concern,” stated that the instruction to suspend Ukraine’s military aid came directly from the President. The Executive Branch is not legally permitted to unilaterally withhold Congressionally-appropriated funds for purposes not authorized by Congress.

“I am deeply concerned with both the delay in critically needed funds for Ukraine, as well as the fact that this hold appears to have been directed by the President just prior to a phone call with President Zelensky,” Peters wrote. “No President should attempt to leverage the power of his office and the relationship of the United States with a foreign power for his own personal and political gain.”

Peters also urged the Office of the Special Counsel – which is charged with managing whistleblower complaints across the federal government – to ensure that the Administration’s response to the complaint reporting the President’s call with the President of Ukraine does not deter other whistleblowers from coming forward. Peters requested information on what additional measures or protections may be necessary to ensure future whistleblowers are protected from retaliation.

“I am concerned that recent events pertaining to an Intelligence Community whistleblower complaint could have a chilling effect on whistleblowers across federal government,” Peters wrote. “Even though this particular whistleblower disclosure has now been released to the appropriate congressional committees and publicly, federal employees have now seen that, even if they follow the established legal process, their concerns may not be heard.”

“Whistleblowers hold the federal government accountable to our laws and to the American people. They have helped ensure that tax dollars are properly spent, that veterans receive timely health care, and that civil liberties are protected,” Peters continued.

Text of Peters’ letter on Ukraine military aid is copied below, and avaiable here. Peters’ letter on whistleblower protections is available here.

 

September 27, 2019

 

The Honorable Mick Mulvaney
Director
Office of Management and Budget
725 17th Street NW
Washington, DC 20503

 

Dear Director Mulvaney: 

I am writing to request additional information regarding the apparent delay in the payment of approximately $391 million in military and security aid for Ukraine. As you know, Ukraine is an important ally in Eastern Europe and the target of continued Russian aggression, and I am concerned by reports that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) may have purposefully delayed the payment of these critical, Congressionally-appropriated funds. On August 12, 2019, the Intelligence Community Inspector General (IG) received a whistleblower disclosure, which the IG subsequently determined was credible and met the definition of an “urgent concern.” That whistleblower disclosure, released publicly on September 26, 2019, states that “the instruction to suspend this assistance [to Ukraine] had come directly from the President” shortly prior to the President’s phone call with the President of Ukraine.

In 2018 and early 2019, Congress appropriated $391.5 million in security and military aid for Ukraine, including $250 million from the Department of Defense (DOD) and $141.5 million from the Department of State. On February 28, 2019 and May 23, 2019, the Secretary of Defense notified Congress that DOD was planning to provide approximately $125 million ($250 million total) for Ukraine’s defense. In contrast to these notifications, it appears that this funding was not released, and was instead reportedly held by OMB at the direct request of the President. Members of Congress were provided conflicting information regarding the delay before the Administration finally released the funds on September 11, 2019—nearly a year after the President signed the Defense appropriations bill into law.

I am deeply concerned with both the delay in critically needed funds for Ukraine, as well as the fact that this hold appears to have been directed by the President just prior to a phone call with President Zelensky. According to a summary of the call recently released by the White House, immediately after President Zelensky expressed thanks for the United States’ “great support in the area of defense” and inquired about purchasing additional Javelin anti-tank missiles, President Trump told President Zelensky, “I would like you to do us a favor.” The President made several requests—first, for an investigation related to CrowdStrike, seemingly in reference to an email server hacked during the 2016 presidential race, and, second, to initiate an investigation into allegations involving Vice President Joe Biden, a potential candidate for President in 2020. No President should attempt to leverage the power of his office and the relationship of the United States with a foreign power for his own personal and political gain.

The U.S. Constitution vests Congress with the “power of the purse”—the authority to authorize and appropriate funds, which the executive branch is expected to spend consistent with the law. Although legislation has provided the executive branch with certain flexibility on how to apportion and request adjustments in how appropriated funds may be spent, the executive branch may not unilaterally choose to withhold appropriated funds for objectives not approved by Congress. Further, as indicated in a bipartisan letter from my colleagues, dated September 3, 2019, the security assistance program for Ukraine has strong Congressional support as Ukraine continues to defend itself against Russian aggression.

In order to better understand the Administration’s reported delay in obligating funding for Ukraine, please provide the following as soon as possible but no later than October 11, 2019: 

  1. Please confirm if OMB placed a “hold” on aid for Ukraine from the Departments of Defense or State, or otherwise directed these agencies to suspend or delay the obligation of these funds.

    1. Please identify who directed OMB to place such a hold and the date of any such direction.

    2. Please provide the date of any such communication by OMB to the agencies, and identify any employees or officials who participated in such communications.

    3. Please provide all written communications within OMB and between OMB and DOD, the State Department, other entities within the Executive Office of the President, and any private individuals regarding Ukrainian aid during fiscal year 2019 until the aid’s obligation, including all emails, letters, and memorandums, as well as all relevant meeting notes.

  2. Please explain the rationale for any delay in obligating Congressionally-appropriated aid for Ukraine from the Departments of Defense and State.

  3. Please identify the officers or employees at OMB responsible for handling the accounts containing the DOD and State Department aid for Ukraine, including the applicable program examiner(s) and their superiors.

  4. Please identify the statutory authority under which OMB held, suspended, or otherwise delayed aid for Ukraine.

  5. Please explain the discrepancy between when DOD provided notification that Ukrainian aid funds would be provided and the actual obligation of these funds in September.

  6. Please provide all signed or approved apportionment forms, with footnotes, regarding the Ukrainian aid.

I appreciate your prompt attention to this matter.

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