A key witness called by Democrats to appear before the House Intelligence Committee testified last month that President Donald Trump had temporarily blocked U.S. aid to Ukraine in 2017 — and expressed some similar concerns to those in 2019.
Catherine Croft, a State Department official specializing in Ukraine, told a closed-door meeting that Trump, through the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), held up the first grant of military aid to the Ukrainian government of then-President Petro Poroshenko partly because of concerns about the country’s corruption and the president’s frustration that the U.S. was expected to pay for its defense.
Another concern was how Russia would react to the first provision of lethal weapons — which President Barack Obama had denied to Ukraine despite ongoing Russian attacks.
Croft testified that prior to the now-infamous hold on aid in the summer of 2019, there had been a hold in late 2017 for “a week or two” at the direction of OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, acting on behalf of President Trump.
The main reason, she said, was concern about “the Russian reaction” — the same reason that Obama administration officials had been cautious about providing military aid.
Eventually, President Trump provided the aid, particularly Javelin anti-tank missiles, which helped Ukraine push back the Russian advance.
But he did so, she said, after lecturing President Poroshenko — to his face — about Ukraine’s corruption and inability to pay for its own defense:
Croft: The President was skeptical of providing weapons to Ukraine.
A: When this was discussed, including in front of the Ukrainian delegation, in fnont of President Poroshenko, he described his concerns being that Ukraine was corrupt, that it was capable of being a very rich country, and that the United States shouldn’t pay for it, but instead, we should be providing aid through loans.
Croft later reiterated the president’s concerns that “Ukraine is corrupt, and that Europe should be stepping up to do more to provide security assistance to Ukraine.”
Trump has voiced similar concerns about U.S. military aid to other countries — that American taxpayers bear the burden of their defense.
The president expressed similar concerns on his July 25 call with new President Volodymyr Zelensky — with the additional request that Ukraine look into allegations of interference in the 2016 election; and into the firing, at the direction of former Vice President Joe Biden, of a prosecutor overseeing an investigation into Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company on whose board his son, Hunter, served.
Democrats have alleged, both during and outside of the hearings, that Trump did not care about corruption in general, and only cared about Burisma and the Bidens.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.