President Donald Trump meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
One of the chief talking points surrounding the impeachment hearings of the previous two weeks was the idea that Trump released the Ukrainian aid the moment he “got caught.” Adam Schiff said this from the committee chair at least half a dozen times. The allegation being that it somehow definitively proves the motivation for the aid hold. “They got caught, that’s the reason aid was finally lifted,” said Adam Schiff on the final day of the public hearings.
But new information on top of old regarding the timeline is being pieced together and it paints a rather different story. Ironically, one of last week’s “bombshells” actually ended up pushing back on the narrative. Byron York did a good breakdown of the chain of events.
Times says ‘unclear how much detail’ Trump knew about whistleblower complaint. But in any event, Trump waited at least 12 days to release aid. Hard to see how that fits into the much-cited ‘Aha! He got caught!’ scenario. 2/3
— Byron York (@ByronYork) November 27, 2019
Trump did not rush to release the aid to avoid the appearance of culpability or “cover up” anything. He waited almost two full weeks and the real reason was much simpler and benign.
But the evidence suggests that neither explanation is correct, that there is a much simpler reason for Trump’s decision to release the aid. On the day he OK’d the aid, Trump learned that Congress was going to force his hand and spend the money anyway. He could either go along or get run over.
On Sept. 11, the White House received a draft of a continuing resolution, produced by House Democrats, that would extend funding for the federal government. Among other provisions, the bill would push the Ukraine money out the door, whether in the final days of fiscal year 2019 or in 2020, regardless of what the president did.
In other words, the President was informed that no matter what he did, the aid would be released in short order. Senate Republicans were already desperate to pass a continuing resolution (because they never want to actually fight for fiscal issues) and had long signaled their support for the aid. It was a virtual certainty that the aid would go to Ukraine and that the President would be holding the bag. Given that turn of events, the aid was released.
According to knowledgeable sources, the Office of Management and Budget received the draft on the morning of Sept. 11. OMB Director Russell Vought informed the president around midday. There was no doubt the Democratic-controlled House would pass the measure, which was needed to avoid a government shutdown. Later that afternoon, Trump — who must have already known that the Republican-controlled Senate would also support the bill — had the point emphasized to him when he received a call from Republican Sen. Rob Portman.
What this shows us is that there was no scramble to release the aid by the White House based on getting “caught.” In fact, it appears they were ready to fight this for the long haul, even having known about the “whistle-blower” complaint for 12 days.
Some will claim this isn’t exculpatory, but it’s not the President’s job to prove a negative in the face of impeachment. It’s Democrats who must show they had proof of what they claim, not just to any supposed political standard, but to a standard which meets public approval. This new timeline undercuts one of the chief pieces of evidence of motivation Democrats have been bandying about. It may not mean impeachment is suddenly over, but it’s certainly not helpful to Schiff’s case.