White House Budget Official Said Two Aides Resigned Amid Ukraine Aid Freeze Concerns

WASHINGTON — Two officials at the White House budget office resigned this year after expressing concerns about President Trump’s decision to hold up congressionally approved security assistance to Ukraine, a third aide at the office told impeachment investigators, revealing dissent within a key agency about Mr. Trump’s insistence on freezing the money.

Mark Sandy, an official at the White House Office of Management and Budget, told the House Intelligence Committee in a private interview this month that one official who “expressed some frustrations about not understanding the reason for the hold” resigned in September at least in part because of those concerns.

A second co-worker, an official in the legal division of the office, also resigned after offering a “dissenting opinion” about whether it was legal to hold up the aid, according to a transcript of Mr. Sandy’s testimony released on Tuesday.

He did not identify either official, and it was unclear how senior they were or how directly their resignations were tied to their concerns over the withholding of the aid. But Mr. Sandy’s account of their departures — after weeks of unanswered questions inside the budget office about why Mr. Trump had directed the congressionally approved military funding to be frozen — underscores the depth of the pushback inside the agency about a decision that many officials believed was legally questionable and potentially dangerous for Ukraine.

The issue is at the core of the impeachment inquiry, in which Democrats have charged that Mr. Trump abused his power to enlist Ukraine in smearing his political rivals, in part by withholding a nearly $400 million package of security aid the country desperately needed while insisting that its leaders announce investigations of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats.

Mr. Trump has insisted he never pressured Ukraine for the investigations or made the aid contingent upon them, and was instead withholding the money out of concern over corruption in Ukraine and a desire to have other countries pay their fair share. But several diplomats and national security officials have testified that the move generated discord at the State Department, the Defense Department and the National Security Council, where top officials were mystified about the decision and worried about its security implications for Ukraine, as well as the legal implications of denying money allocated by Congress.

Mr. Sandy testified that he was informed that the aid freeze came directly from Mr. Trump, who he was told began inquiring about the assistance package on June 19, after seeing a media report. Mr. Sandy learned of Mr. Trump’s decision to put a hold on the aid through a July 12 email from Robert Blair, a top aide to Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff.

That email, which Mr. Sandy received nearly a week before other administration officials have said they learned that the aid had been frozen, indicated that “the president is directing a hold on military support funding for Ukraine,” he told impeachment investigators.

In an indication of the level of frustration about the situation inside the budget office, Mr. Sandy said that he and others repeatedly asked his superiors for a rationale for why the security assistance had been frozen, but were never given one.

“It was an open question over the course of late July and pretty much all of August, as I recall,” Mr. Sandy said. He said he spoke with the co-worker who left in September following his departure and concluded that the resignation was in part because no answer to that question ever came.

Mr. Sandy is the only official at the budget office to testify in the impeachment inquiry. Several others, including Russell T. Vought, the acting head of the office, have refused to appear.

This is a breaking story. Please check back for updates.

Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.

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