The U.S. administration doesn’t expect any additional freeze on military aid to Ukraine following the 2019 hold that fueled an impeachment investigation of Donald Trump, according to the acting head of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.
“I am not going to take any tools that the president has off the table, but I don’t anticipate anything on that front,” Acting OMB chief Russ Vought told reporters Wednesday when asked if the administration’s concerns about corruption in the country had been addressed. His comments followed a House Budget Committee hearing on the president’s fiscal 2021 budget request.
Trump’s decision to halt $400 million in assistance to Ukraine in 2019 was deemed illegal by a federal watchdog, though OMB officials disagreed with that finding.
Last October, House impeachment investigators issued a subpoena to Vought, part of a round of subpoenas sent by the House Intelligence Committee. Vought refused to appear.
But during a three-hour session Wednesday with Vought, Democrats didn’t once directly bring up Ukraine.
Budget Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) only alluded to the aid freeze in the last question asked of Vought, about the steps OMB is taking to ensure the agency does not withhold « duly enacted appropriations. »
“We will continue to be transparent with regard to how we manage the people’s money and … ensure that money is not wasted in the process,” Vought replied.
“We believe that we need to abide by the appropriation passed by Congress,” Vought added. In determining how to spend money efficiently and economically, Vought said OMB examines federal spending laws in order to figure out the various budget “flexibilities” at the agency’s disposal.
The acting White House budget director also contended that the agency gave GAO “all of the information that they’ve requested, to our knowledge.” The federal watchdog ruled last month that the president’s pause on Ukraine aid was illegal, noting that OMB “failed” to provide all of the information necessary for its investigation.
In freezing the aid, OMB contended that the administration was concerned about corruption in Ukraine, while wanting to ensure foreign aid is spent wisely and that other countries are contributing their fair share.
Notably, foreign military assistance to Ukraine through the State Department would be preserved under Trump’s latest budget request, which is a break from previous budgets.
When asked about that reversal, Vought said, “We wanted to be at the fiscal year 2020 enacted level. That’s what budgeting is — looking at what’s needed for the coming year and making decisions along those lines.“