Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said he wants to keep the Department of Defense “apolitical” when asked about the situation with Ukraine.
President Donald Trump’s request to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to look into possible corruption in the country and interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election has rankled critics and some lawmakers. House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry into Trump in late September.
Democrats have tried connecting the Trump administration’s review of military aid to Ukraine with his request for Zelensky to look into multiple issues, including former Vice President Joe Biden’s pressuring in 2016 then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to fire a prosecutor who was probing Burisma, an energy company that was paying Biden’s son Hunter Biden tens of thousands of dollars a month.
Esper was asked while speaking to reporters on Oct. 5 whether anyone came to him “with concerns about the freeze in the military aid and did you ask them to look into that?”
“Did you talk to the White House about that?” the reporter asked. “And if not, why not?”
“The department’s discussions on this principally center around briefings, what is the military value in terms of competing—assisting a country like Ukraine in terms of deterring or defending the Russians,” Esper responded.
“Number two, is the country making progress on corruption? And that was, you know, a crime under the law. And number three, it’s something that you all have heard me talk about many times is, are our allies and partners contributing, and also helping to assist the Ukrainians? So that has always been the department’s principle focus (inaudible) of this matter,” Esper continued.
“And you know, I’m at this point, as I’ve said before, it’s a political matter. I’m not going to get involved in that. It’s—my aim is to keep the department apolitical.”
The reporter then asked again whether Esper ever pushed back on the review of the aid. “Was there a moment that you’re aware of where either—you discussed OSD policy, or DOD did anything to say, hey what’s going on? Or could we like, actually get this out the door?” the reporter asked.
“I’m not going to add any fuel to the fire at this point in time. Congress is looking into this obviously, an inquiry’s underway and we’ll deal with this, and answer all these questions in due course. But right now I’m trying to keep DOD out of this issue; it’s a very political issue. And I want to just keep it at that right now,” Esper responded.