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Letter Undercuts Trump Assertion On Delaying Aid To Ukraine


We have new information revealing the backdrop of a decision by President Trump. It was his decision to suspend military aid to Ukraine. The president did this earlier this year just before he asked Ukraine's president for the, quote, "favor" of political dirt on his rival Joe Biden. The president has given varied explanations for doing this. He said he was worried about corruption. Later, he changed and said he was upset about Europeans, saying that they should pay a greater share of support to Ukraine.

But NPR reporting undercuts both of the president's explanations. NPR's David Welna is on the line. David, good morning.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what is the letter that you obtained from the U.S. military?

WELNA: So this was a letter sent by the Pentagon to the chairman of four congressional committees in May. It came from Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood. And in it, he certifies to these committees, as he's required by law, that Ukraine has undertaken sufficient reforms for decreasing corruption and increasing accountability in order to qualify for some of the - some $250 billion in security assistance from the Pentagon to help Ukraine defend itself against a pro-Russia separatist insurgency. In essence, the Pentagon was telling Congress that corruption was not a reason to hold up that money, which, as it turns out, is quite at odds with what President Trump has been saying.

INSKEEP: Yeah. The president has said this is all about corruption. Of course, his critics have noted the only alleged corruption that he seemed to be interested in was this several years-old and largely discredited story that happens to involve his political opponent. But you're saying the Pentagon - so the administration itself, in effect, and the career military people looked at this and said Ukraine is actually improving the issue of corruption.

So the president, perhaps knowing this - I don't know - changed his explanation, said it was really about being upset that the U.S. was paying too much and European allies are not paying. Is there information about that explanation?

WELNA: Right. So if he's withholding this money because European allies aren't kicking in their fair share, you would think his administration would be leaning on those countries to do more. So I checked with more than half a dozen European embassies here in Washington to see if they'd been pressured to increase their contributions to Ukraine, and not one of them reported anything of the kind. In fact, several pointed out that the European Union has already given Ukraine $15 billion in economic assistance, which is about 10 times as much as the U.S. has provided Ukraine in security over the past five years.

INSKEEP: I just want to be clear on this, David Welna. It sounds like you listened to the president. You looked into what he had to say. And both of his explanations have fallen apart. Is that saying too much?

WELNA: I don't think that's saying too much. They certainly don't stand up to a lot of scrutiny. And, you know, Trump is facing accusations that the real purpose for withholding this aid was to pressure Ukrainian President Zelenskiy into conducting an investigation into the affairs of Joe Biden and his son Hunter. So this could get quite interesting before Congress.

INSKEEP: David, thanks so much for your reporting, really appreciate it.

WELNA: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's David Welna.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: We incorrectly say that Ukraine had qualified for $250 billion in aid. The correct amount is $250 million. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: September 26, 2019 at 11:00 PM CDT
We incorrectly say that Ukraine had qualified for $250 billion in aid. The correct amount is $250 million.
David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.
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