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President Donald Trump

President Donald Trump answered questions from the press while departing the White House on Nov. 26, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

'This Is a Lie': Critics Challenge Trump Suggestion That Ukrainians Didn't Know Military Aid Was Being Withheld

The president tweeted a "lackluster" attack in response to a career diplomat's "explosive" testimony to House impeachment investigators.

Jessica Corbett

Democratic lawmakers and impeachment supporters on Wednesday called out President Donald Trump for suggesting on Twitter that Ukrainian officials were not aware that military aid was being withheld as part the administration's efforts to convince the country's leader to publicly launch an investigation involving former Vice President Joe Biden.

Trump's tweet was a "relatively lackluster" response to career diplomat William Taylor's 10 hours of "explosive" testimony Tuesday about the administration's "pervasive" attempts to force a Ukrainian investigation into an energy company that employed Biden's son Hunter. Taylor testisfied behind closed doors to the House Oversight, Intelligence, and Foreign Affairs committees as part of Democrats' impeachment inquiry into Trump.

Shortly before a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky—which provoked a whistleblower complaint that led Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to finally launch an impeachment inquiry last month—Trump instructed acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to hold back $391 million in military aid for Ukraine.

Lawmakers present for Taylor's hearing Tuesday said the diplomat provided "the most thorough accounting we've had of the timeline" of the Trump administration's push for a Ukrainian probe and called the testimony "a sea change" that "could accelerate" the impeachment inquiry—with which the president has refused to cooperate.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), who sits on the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees, attended Taylor's testimony. In response to Trump's suggestion that the Ukrainians didn't know about the administration withholding the military aid package, Lieu declared, "This is a lie."

"The Ukrainians are not stupid," Lieu added. "Nor is the American public."

Although the Trump administration's attempts to pressure Zelensky to launch a probe that could potentially harm Biden's 2020 campaign for the White House were ultimately unsuccessful, legal experts have pushed back against Trump's suggestion—which he also tweeted Wednesday—that "you can't have a quid pro quo with no quo."

As a pair of experts at the Campaign Legal Center explained earlier this month, "By directly requesting or suggesting that President Zelensky use Ukraine's resources to help his reelection efforts, Trump violated campaign finance law."

Impeachment HQ, a joint project of Stand Up America and Defend the Republic, addressed Trump's latest comment on the matter in an email to supporters Wednesday.

"Trump and his allies are falsely claiming that Ukraine didn't know that military aid was being withheld and, therefore, couldn't have felt pressure to launch the phony investigations into his political rival," the project said. "This is a laughable claim."

Pulling from Taylor's opening statement (pdf) and Wall Street Journal reporting, Impeachment HQ pointed out:

  1. On September 1, Ambassador Gordon Sondland told a top Ukraine official that military aid was contingent on an investigation into the Bidens, according to Ambassador Bill Taylor's deposition.
  2. Sondland also had a conversation with Ukrainian President Zelensky directly where he conditioned military aid on launching an investigation into the Bidens, according to Taylor's deposition.
  3. Senator Chris Murphy [D-Conn.] visited Ukraine and said they were worried that aid was cut off because they wouldn't launch an investigation into the Bidens.

Stand Up America founder and president Sean Eldridge tweeted Wednesday that "Taylor's testimony was crystal clear," alongside a short excerpt from the diplomat's statement.

The New York Times, citing interviews and documents the newspaper obtained, reported Wednesday that "word of the aid freeze had gotten to high-level Ukrainian officials by the first week in August."

"The problem was not a bureaucratic glitch, the Ukrainians were told then," according to the Times. "To address it, they were advised, they should reach out to Mick Mulvaney."

The reporting, the Times notes, "corroborates, and provides additional details about, a claim made by a CIA officer in his whistleblower complaint that sparked the impeachment inquiry."

The whistleblower wrote that "as of early August, I heard from U.S. officials that some Ukrainian officials were aware that U.S. aid might be in jeopardy, but I do not know how or when they learned of it." He added that the order to freeze the aid package "had come directly from the president" and "might have a connection with the overall effort to pressure Ukrainian leadership."

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