Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

President Donald Trump and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney listen to comments during a luncheon with representatives of the United Nations Security Council in the Cabinet Room at the White House on December 5, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

'What Were They Hiding?': Trump Critics Argue 'Explosive' White House Email Shows Why Key Witnesses Must Testify in Senate Trial

"If there's nothing wrong with withholding the aid, why didn't Mr. Duffey want anyone to know about what he was doing?" asked Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Jake Johnson

Internal White House emails obtained late Friday night by the Center for Public Integrity showed that a budget official ordered the Pentagon to put a hold on congressionally appropriated military aid to Ukraine—and to keep quiet about the freeze—just 90 minutes after President Donald Trump's infamous July 25 phone call with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky.

"The White House treated the suspension of aid as a secret so dangerous that if if were discovered it would be a disaster."
—Paul Waldman, Washington Post

"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," Michael Duffey, a Trump-appointed senior official with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), wrote in a July 25 email to Pentagon Comptroller Elaine McCusker and other Trump administration officials.

The email was just one revelation in the 146 pages of heavily redacted documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) after it won a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Trump administration.

As CPI national security editor R. Jeffrey Smith wrote Friday, U.S. law mandates that "once Congress appropriates funds—like the Ukraine assistance—and the president signs the relevant spending bill, the executive branch must spend those funds."

"A president cannot simply ignore Congress' direction, no matter how inconvenient or unappealing that instruction might be," Smith noted. "If funds are withheld or shifted elsewhere, this cannot be done in secret, and Congress must approve."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) quickly seized upon the email as further evidence that Duffey, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and other witnesses must testify in Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate.

"What were they hiding?" Schumer, holding a copy of Duffey's email to the Pentagon, asked during a press conference on Sunday. "This email is explosive. A top administration official, one that we've requested, is saying 'stop the aid' 91 minutes after Trump called Zelensky, and said 'keep it hush-hush.' What more do you need to request a witness?"

"If there's nothing wrong with withholding the aid, why didn't Mr. Duffey want anyone to know about what he was doing?" Schumer added. "If this is a perfect conversation, if this is [an] OK action, why are they trying to hush it up?"

Duffey's email was made public just days after the House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against Trump, paving the way for a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate.

In a column on Monday, the Washington Post's Paul Waldman argued that the email "directly undermines the justification Trump's defenders have so often offered for holding up the aid: that it was not to coerce Ukraine into helping Trump's reelection campaign but was merely a product of Trump's passionate commitment to fighting corruption (please stop laughing)."

"If that were true, the White House would have wanted to make sure that every relevant official in the government was informed about the suspension of aid and why it was being undertaken," Waldman wrote. "The White House might even have wanted to talk about it publicly. Instead, the White House treated the suspension of aid as a secret so dangerous that if if were discovered it would be a disaster."

"And they were right," added Waldman. "When it finally did become public, the result was the impeachment of the president."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

DOJ Sues to Prevent Arizona's 'Onerous' Proof of Citizenship Voting Law

Assistant U.S. Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke said the law "constitutes a textbook violation of the National Voter Registration Act."

Brett Wilkins ·


House Progressives Urge Reforms to 'Hold These Rogue Justices to Account'

Recent rulings by the Supreme Court's right-wing majority have made clear the need for substantive changes, including expansion, argues Rep. Pramila Jayapal.

Kenny Stancil ·


'Win for Wildlife' as Federal Court Restores Endangered Species Protections Gutted by Trump

"In the midst of a global extinction crisis, the court's decision to vacate the rules will help ensure that imperiled species receive the protections they desperately need," said one advocate.

Julia Conley ·


Senate Urged to Block Biden's Pro-Privatization Nominee for Social Security Board

"The Senate can, and must, block this terrible nomination," Social Security Works said of the administration's choice of Andrew Biggs.

Jake Johnson ·


GOP Senator Defends Guantánamo Bay Prison as 'Absolutely Vital Institution'

Sen. James Inhofe's comments come as congressional Democrats are reviving efforts to close the notorious U.S. military prison.

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo