Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale testified to the House Intelligence Committee earlier this month that aid to Lebanon had been withheld at roughly the same time, and in the same way, as aid to Ukraine.
The transcript of Hale’s closed-door deposition was released Monday evening, on the eve of a slew of new hearings.
Hale, a career diplomat, testified that the suspension of aid to various countries was part of a context in which the Trump administration had “embarked on a foreign assistance review in which we are trying to reestablish the norms that guide the assistance that we provide overseas.” Hale called the review of U.S. foreign aid “long overdue.”
He added that aid to Lebanon had been withheld by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in the White House– as had aid to the “Northern Triangle” of countries in Central America from which many of the migrants flocking to the U.S. border had come.
Committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) attempted to push back, distinguishing between a broader review of aid and the specific review of aid that had happened over the summer in the case of Ukraine.
“My colleagues in the minority asked you about an overall review of foreign assistance, and I want to make sure that we’re not conflating the two here. … But there was a very specific hold placed on this assistance to Ukraine for inexplicable reasons, was there not?” he asked.
Hale replied: “That is correct. There was information that came to me starting in late June that a hold had been placed on both Ukraine assistance and Lebanon military assistance without any explanation on those, about those holds; that’s correct.”
Schiff then asked a series of leading questions, such as: “[T]he aid to the Northern Triangle wasn’t withheld because there was an effort to get political investigations involving the Bidens, was there?”
Hale said it was not.
He added, however, that the hold on Lebanon aid had been handled in the same way as the hold on Ukraine aid: “‘[N]o one explained to us in either case, Ukraine or Lebanon, the reasoning behind the hold, or the freeze really.”
Other witnesses have said that the lack of explanation for holding up Ukraine aid seemed suspicious; Hale seemed to describe it as part of the way the Trump administration handled such cases in general:
Q: Okay. And so you still — have you — has the State Department been provided with a reason why the hold [on aid to Lebanon] has been withheld?
Hale: Officially, no; formally, in no way, in no manner.
Q: How about informally?
A: Not even informally, no. We just understand there are differences of opinion on this, or there had been. And the matter now rests with OMB. I don’t think that the differences currently exist outside of OMB.
Q: And was this congressionally authorized aid as well to Lebanon?
A: I’m pretty sure of it, yeah. Yes.
Ambassador Hale’s testimony contradicted the Democrats’ narrative against President Donald Trump in many other respects, as well. He said that he was never aware of any link between U.S. aid for Ukraine and the investigations the president had requested.
Hale also testified that the transcript of the president’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky seemed “perfectly normal” — at least, until the whistleblower complaint emerged. And he also said that it was “not unprecedented” for a president to lean on a private citizen — such as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani — for support in public diplomacy.
He did say there had been no credible evidence of the allegation that former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch had disparaged the president, but poured cold water on the idea that having her issue a public statement supporting the president — a statement the State Department ultimately decided against releasing — was a demand for political loyalty.
Hale is scheduled to testify in a public hearing later this week.
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.