Cipollone: Obama’s Decision Not to Give Aid to Ukraine for 3 Years Worse Than Pause

By Melanie Arter | January 30, 2020 | 11:24am EST
(Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

( - White House counsel Pat Cipollone said Wednesday that the Obama administration’s decision refusal not to give lethal aid to Ukraine for three years had a greater military impact on Ukraine than the temporary pause in aid by the Trump administration.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts asked a question on Ukrainian aid posed by Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.):



“As members of the Senate Armed Service Committee, we listened intently when Manager Crow was defending one of Senator Schumer's amendments to the organizing resolution last week as he explained how he had first-hand experience being denied military aid when he needed it during his service.

“As you know, David Hale, undersecretary of state for political affairs, confirmed that the legal aid provided to Ukraine last year was future aid. Which would you say had the greater military impact? President Trump's temporary pause of 48 days on future aid that will now be delivered to Ukraine or President Obama's steadfast refusal to provide lethal aid to Ukraine for three years, more than 1,000 days while Ukraine attempted to hold back Russia's invasion and preserve its sovereignty?


Cipollone said it was “far more serious and far more jeopardy for the Ukrainians, the decision of the Obama administration to not use the authority that was given by Congress, that many of you all, many members of the House of Representatives voted for, giving the U.S. government the authority to provide lethal aid to the Ukrainians, and the Obama administration decided not to provide that aid.”

He said that “multiple witnesses who were called in the House by the House Democrats testified that the United States policy towards Ukraine got stronger under the Trump administration, in part, largely because of that legal aid.”

Ambassador Yovanovitch, Ambassador Volker, others also testified that U.S. policy in providing that aid was greater support for Ukraine than was provided in the Obama administration, particularly the provision of javelin anti-tank missiles, which they are explained are legal and kill Russian tanks and change the calculus for aggression for the Russians in the Donbass region in the eastern portion of Ukraine where that conflict is still ongoing. In terms of the pause, the temporary pause on aid here, the testimony in the record -- put aside with the House managers have said about their speculation, and they know what it’s like to be denied aid. The testimony in the record is that this temporary pause was not significant. 

Ambassador Volker testified that the brief pause on releasing aid was "not significant." Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale explained that "This was future assistance not to keep the army going now." So in other words, this isn't money that had to flow every month in order to fund current purchases or something like that. It was money, it’s 5 year money. Once it’s obligated, it’s there for five years, and it usually takes quite a bit of time to spend all of it, so the idea somehow that during a couple of months in July, August, and up til September 11th -  55 to 48 days, depending on how you count it - that this was somehow denying critical assistance to the Ukrainians on the front lines right then, it’is simply not true.

Now the House managers have tried to pivot away from that, because they know it’s not true and to say no, it was the signal to the Russians, it was a signal of lack of support that the Russians would pick up on, but here again, it’s critical. Even the Ukrainians didn’t know that the aide had been paused, and part of the reason was, if they never brought it up in any conversations with representatives of the U.S. government, and as Ambassador Volker testified, representatives of the U.S. government didn't bring it up to them, because they didn't want anyone to know. They didn't want to put out any signal that might be perceived by the Russians or by the Ukrainians as any sign of lack of support. 

It was kept internal to the U.S. government. They pointed to some emails that someone at the Department of Defense or Department of State or Cooper received from unnamed embassy staffers suggesting that it was a question about the aid, but her testimony was that she couldn’t even remember what the question really was and she didn't want to speculate. There’s not evidence that any decision makers in the Ukrainian government knew about the pause, and just the other day, another article came out. I will believe it was from, at the time the foreign minister explaining that when the Politico article came out on August 28th, there was panic in Kiev, because it was the first time they realized there was any pause on the aid. So that was not something that was providing any signal either to the Ukrainians or the Russians, because it wasn't known. It was two weeks later after it became public that the aid was released. 

The testimony in the record is that the pause was nonsignificant, and it was future money, not for current purchases, and it was released before the end of the fiscal year. They point out that some of it wasn't out the door by the end of the fiscal year. That happens every year. There’s some percentage that doesn't make it out the door by the end of the year, and again, it’s 5-year money. It’s not like it's all going to be spent in the next 30, 60, 90 days anyway, so the fact that there was a little fix, Congress passed a fix to allow to allow that $30 million to be spent. Something similar happens for some amount almost every year, and it was not affecting current purchases. It wasn't jeopardizing anything at the front lines. There’s no evidence about that in the record. The evidence is to the contrary. 


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