President Donald Trump said he blocked military aid to Ukraine in the summer because of high levels of corruption and to spur European partners to shoulder a greater share of security assistance.
The Pentagon announced plans in June to send $250 million in aid to Ukraine, but its delivery was delayed. A defense official said last week that the Trump administration held up the money to analyze the extent to which Ukraine was addressing long-standing U.S. concerns about corruption. That funding was then released in September.
The State Department also approved a separate $141.5 million in security assistance for Ukraine, including money for what a Ukrainian news outlet said was sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, bringing the total to just over $391 million.
Speaking at a press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö at the White House on Oct. 2, Trump said that prompting the delay in the release of the assistance were two factors that “bothered me from day one.”
“Ukraine is known—before him [prior to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky coming to power]—for tremendous corruption. Tremendous,” Trump said of the first reason. “More than just about any country in the world. In fact, they’re rated one of the most corrupt countries in the world. And I don’t like giving money to a country that’s that corrupt.”
The second factor, Trump noted, was the relatively low share of the aid burden European countries bear, despite the fact that they benefit from Ukraine serving as a security buffer. “They’re like a wall between Russia and Europe,” Trump said. “They’re like a wall. They’re a big, wide, beautiful wall.”
“How come it’s always the United States that gets ripped?” the president asked, adding: “I don’t like being the sucker country. We were the sucker country for years and years. We’re not the sucker country anymore.”
Trump said he released the funds after being urged by Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and others.
“In fact, Rob Portman backed me up, and there’s nobody more honorable than Rob Portman of Ohio. Because he called up, ‘Please, let the money go.’ I said, ‘Rob, I hate being the country that’s always giving money when Ukraine helps Europe and the European countries far more than they help us.'”
The president then expressed eagerness to help Ukraine and praised the country’s current leader.
“Frankly, Ukraine—we want to help them. And I do like the new president. You know why I like him? Because he was honest, because he said, ‘There was no pressure at all exerted on me’—meaning him—’by the president of the United States.’ He said it. By the way, that one sentence should stop this. But he said there was no pressure exerted.”
Trump’s pressure reference touches on claims that he had withheld the military aid and floated its release as a quid pro quo for an investigation into presidential hopeful Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
‘Wide-Ranging Corruption Probe’
A whistleblower complaint made public last week claims Trump’s request that Ukrainian authorities “look into” alleged misconduct by the Bidens amounts to abusing his office for political gain.
House Democrats last week formally launched an impeachment inquiry against Trump in the wake of the call with the Ukrainian president, appearing to have adopted the reasoning that Trump’s request for an investigation amounted to abuse of power.
The White House last week released a transcript of the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump appeared to refer to a video in which Biden brags about forcing the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor by withholding $1 billion in U.S. loans. At the time of the firing, the prosecutor was investigating Burisma, the Ukrainian natural gas firm that paid Hunter Biden $50,000 per month as a member of the board of directors.
The prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, told a European court in a sworn affidavit that he was removed because he refused to drop the Biden investigation.
“The truth is that I was forced out because I was leading a wide-ranging corruption probe into Burisma Holdings, a natural gas firm active in Ukraine, and Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was a member of the Board of Directors,” Shokin wrote.
Shokin said former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko came to him multiple times and asked him to close down the probe into Burisma but the prosecutor refused.
“In my conversations with Poroshenko at the time, he was emphatic that I should cease my investigations regarding Burisma. When I did not, he said that the U.S. (via Biden) were refusing to release the $1 billion promised to Ukraine. He said that he had no choice.”
So far, no evidence has been found of wrongdoing on the part of Joe Biden or his son and the now-former Ukrainian prosecutor who replaced Shokin told the BBC that a probe into the Bidens would have to start in the United States.
“I don’t know any reason to investigate Joe Biden or Hunter Biden according to Ukrainian law,” said Yuriy Lutsenko, who stepped down last month. “It is the jurisdiction of the U.S.,” he said, adding that any “possible embezzlement” at Burisma “happened two or three years before Hunter Biden became a member of the board.”
‘Coup’ and ‘Hoax’
In a Twitter post on Oct. 1, Trump escalated his criticism of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, comparing the process to a “coup.”
“As I learn more and more each day, I am coming to the conclusion that what is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
As I learn more and more each day, I am coming to the conclusion that what is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP, intended to take away the Power of the….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2019
In another post, Trump said that “almost everything” the whistleblower said about his call with Ukraine’s president was off the mark and called accusations of abuse of power “just another Democrat hoax.”
“So if the so-called ‘Whistleblower’ has all second-hand information, and almost everything he has said about my ‘perfect’ call with the Ukrainian President is wrong (much to the embarrassment of Pelosi & Schiff), why aren’t we entitled to interview & learn everything about the Whistleblower, and also the person who gave all of the false information to him,” Trump said in a statement on Twitter on Oct. 1.
“This is simply about a phone conversation that could not have been nicer, warmer, or better. No pressure at all (as confirmed by Ukrainian Pres.). It is just another Democrat Hoax!”
So if the so-called “Whistleblower” has all second hand information, and almost everything he has said about my “perfect” call with the Ukrainian President is wrong (much to the embarrassment of Pelosi & Schiff), why aren’t we entitled to interview & learn everything about….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2019
Trump has repeatedly sought to link the current impeachment inquiry to the years-long probe of the Russia-Trump collusion theory, which concluded earlier this year when special counsel Robert Mueller’s team said it could not establish cooperation or conspiracy between Trump or his campaign and Russian actors.
The president has labeled both inquiries as “witch hunts.”