Emails point to 'clear direction' from Trump in Ukraine scheme

New reporting points to Donald Trump's direct role in freezing the congressionally approved military aid.
US-WEATHER-RAIN-WHITE-HOUSE
The White House.ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP/Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

A couple of weeks ago, the Center for Public Integrity obtained 146 pages of heavily redacted emails from the Trump administration through a Freedom of Information Act request and court order, and the revelations helped move the ball forward on better understanding Donald Trump's Ukraine scandal.

The materials showed, for example, that it was Mike Duffey, a political appointee who used to lead the Wisconsin Republican Party, who directed officials at the Pentagon and the White House budget office to "hold off" on dispersing aid, due to "guidance" he'd received.

And while those revelations were damaging, the released documents included extensive redactions. It's against this backdrop that Just Security, a national security website affiliated with the New York University School of Law, reported yesterday on some unredacted copies of relevant emails.

"Clear direction from POTUS to continue to hold."

This is what Michael Duffey, associate director of national security programs at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), told Elaine McCusker, the acting Pentagon comptroller, in an Aug. 30 email, which has only been made available in redacted form until now. It is one of many documents the Trump administration is trying to keep from the public, despite congressional oversight efforts and court orders in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation.

The whole report is worth reading in detail. It paints a portrait of a president who wasn't just willing to ignore his team's advice, but also the Pentagon's concerns about legal limits. Just as importantly, Just Security's brutal report points to Trump's direct role in freezing the congressionally approved military aid.

It's worth emphasizing that neither MSNBC nor NBC News has independently verified Just Security's reporting, and the networks haven't viewed the emails or verified their authenticity.

That said, if the reporting is accurate, it's devastating for the White House's defense. What's more, the apparent revelations caused a considerable stir among Democratic leaders yesterday afternoon.

"The newly-revealed unredacted emails are a devastating blow to Senator McConnell's push to have a trial without the documents and witnesses we've requested," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement in reference to his Republican counterpart. "These emails further expose the serious concerns raised by Trump administration officials about the propriety and legality of the president's decision to cut off aid to Ukraine to benefit himself."

Schumer added, "This new evidence also raises questions that can only be answered by having the key Trump administration officials -- Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton, Michael Duffey and Robert Blair -- testify under oath in a Senate trial. Importantly, that Mr. Duffey said there was 'clear direction from POTUS to continue to hold' only further implicates President Trump and underscores the need for the Senate to subpoena the witnesses and documents we've requested at the onset of a trial."

In a separate statement, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said, "As part of our impeachment inquiry, the House subpoenaed these very documents. From their deeply incriminating character, we can now see why they were concealed: They directly corroborate witnesses who testified that military aid to Ukraine was withheld at the direction of the president and that the White House was informed doing so may violate the law. The Administration did not want Congress to find out why.

"The disclosure of these incriminating documents reinforces the need for all of these materials to be produced, and that a fair trial in the Senate cannot take place without them. If they are not produced, the Senate and the American people must ask, what else is the president hiding?"

That need not be a rhetorical question.

MORE: Today's Maddowblog