White House to House Dems: No Ukrainians Died Waiting on Aid
As the White House counsel begins a confidential review of the decision to place a hold on military aid to Ukraine last summer, administration sources tell RealClearPolitics that one thing is certain: Ukrainian soldiers did not die for want of assistance from the United States.
Though President Trump placed a hold on a $391 million aid package, which included $250 million worth of military assistance, administration documents reviewed by RCP show that most of the funds were always scheduled to be spent after mid-September.
That aid was released ahead of that timeline on Sept. 11, making any resulting no-aid casualties impossible, according to multiple sources familiar with the process.
The established schedule was well-known as House Democrats began questioning witnesses as part of their impeachment proceedings. But that didn’t stop Rep. Eric Swalwell from claiming that the delay caused battlefield casualties as Ukrainian forces fought to curb Russian aggression in their country.
The California Democrat argued on Fox News last Wednesday that Trump endangered lives by pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open an investigation into former vice president -- and potential political rival -- Joe Biden.
“He was a new president who needed a meeting with the United States,” Swalwell said, “and people in Ukraine were dying every day that they did not have that assistance.”
Host Shannon Bream noted that there was never a moment when aid was needed but not available, with people dying as a result.
“That's false,” Swalwell still insisted.
And then, the president started tweeting.
“Why do @ShannonBream & @FoxNews waste airtime on Democrat Rep. Eric Swalwell, who recently left the Presidential Primaries having attained a grand number of ZERO in the polls,” Trump wrote Thursday morning. “I don’t even know how that is possible. Fox should stay with the people that got them there, not losers!”
Swalwell apparently did not want to continue the back-and-forth with Trump. His office declined to comment, other than to say that the congressman was travelling, to pass along a picture of Zelensky on the frontlines, and to direct RCP to the sworn testimony of U.S. Ambassador Bill Taylor.
That diplomat told lawmakers that “more Ukrainians would undoubtedly die without U.S. assistance,” but he did not testify that any had, in fact, perished.
The administration bristles at allegations to the contrary. “Congressman Swalwell’s assertions are baseless and irresponsible,” Office of Budget and Management spokeswoman Rachel Semmel told RCP. “House Democrats have been willing to spread any lie to impeach the president.”
Others piled on for good measure. “Pure fantasy,” one senior administration official said of alleged Ukrainian deaths. “The hold from OMB lasted as long as Rep. Swalwell’s presidential hopes,” another mocked. (The congressman dropped out in July.)
“The ‘hold’ had zero practical impact on getting this money out the door. Most of the money wasn’t scheduled to be spent until mid to end of September. The hold was lifted before that. To say that looking at this money in July and August changed when Ukraine received funds (or that it led to loss of life) is ridiculous,” a third concluded.
That the White House would push back so strongly on Swalwell is not surprising. Capitol Hill has been so consumed with the impeachment drama that the administration complains that Trump doesn’t get credit for standing with Ukraine. Unlike his predecessor, they often note, this president was the first to make lethal aid available, most notably in the form of Javelin missiles designed to destroy tanks.
Trump will likely continue to repeat this fact in the months to come as House Democrats demand documents from OMB and others about when and why the aid was initially frozen. And while the White House press office did not respond to a request for comment, the Pentagon has made this point clear.
“I'm pleased to say we were obligated to have that money out the door by the end of the fiscal year,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters well before Swalwell made his claim. “At this point, most of the money is out the door. And at no time or at any time has any delay in this money, this funding, affected U.S. national security.”