A review from within the White House, triggered by a whistleblower complaint that officials were made aware of in August, sought to find legal ways to justify why military aid authorized by Congress was being withheld by the president.
President Donald Trump had ordered the hold a month earlier, and in a phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, it appeared as though he had tied the release of the military aid to the opening of investigations in Kyiv that would focus on Joe Biden, the whistleblower alleged. Such an investigation would give Trump a political benefit should Biden win the Democratic Party’s nomination to run for president next year.
According to a report from the Washington Post, which cited three sources familiar with the inner workings at the White House, an official review was triggered after the whistleblower’s complaint was made known to aides. Hundreds of documents were produced that demonstrate officials were seeking to find reasons that would hold up under legal scrutiny “after-the-fact,” as the Post put it, a month after Trump had ordered the hold.
For instance, emails between acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and other budget aides show them discussing possible explanations for the hold. Those conversations demonstrate that they were looking for an update on why the hold was made, including how long the hold could possibly last.
Those particular conversations came about the day after the whistleblower became known to the White House, those sources said.
"hundreds of documents reveal extensive efforts to generate an after-the-fact justification" – WaPohttps://t.co/6db1JEDPA8
— David Jolly (@DavidJollyFL) November 24, 2019
The documents put a huge hole in one of the arguments the White House and GOP lawmakers were making in defense of Trump: that the hold was a legal action, and that it was a standard way of negotiating things with a foreign power. The conversations show that there were doubts over both ideas from White House counsel.
The legality of their actions being “debated behind the scenes” is potentially “damaging” for Trump’s defense in the impeachment inquiry, former prosecutor Lis Wiehl said on CNN.
“This was sort of the mantra during the course of the investigation: ‘This is just a normal thing; it happens all the time,’” Wiehl said, per a report from Raw Story. “Clearly, what the lawyers were already saying, the emails that were discovered here, they’re saying, ‘No, it’s not normal, we need to find a legal reason to be able to say it’s normal, it’s in the course of business,’ when they already knew that it wasn’t.”