This week, the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump abruptly got underway with opening arguments and a late night approval of rules for the rest of the trial. Right as those initial stages were unfolding, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released almost 200 pages of evidence including never-before-seen emails that reveal key details, including that the Trump team was preparing to freeze aid for Ukraine before Trump ever talked to their president. That aid freeze was designed as apparent leverage for Trump’s plot to pressure Ukraine into investigating his opponents, and the longer time frame revealed for the aid freeze plans indicates an incriminating aspect of premeditation.
OMB released the documents in compliance with a ruling in a lawsuit brought by the government watchdog group American Oversight, which stepped in with requests for relevant records to be made public as the Trump administration went on a de facto evidence lockdown in response to demands from impeachment investigators.
American Oversight executive director Austin Evers commented:
‘The public can now see even more evidence of the President’s corrupt scheme as it unfolded in real-time. The volume of material released, and the volume of material still secreted away only highlights how much the administration has withheld from the House, the Senate, and the American public.’
The details in this new batch of evidence include OMB official and Trump appointee Michael Duffey receiving a “Ukraine Prep Memo” on the night before Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. That conversation took place on July 25, and Duffey — who Democrats want to have testify in the impeachment trial — got the memo on the evening of July 24. CNN notes that at around the same time, “it appears the general counsel’s office prepared a footnote for budget officials,” meaning that they developed “the technical device officials at the budget office used to pause the funding.”
As are numerous other portions of the newly released material, the contents of the Ukraine memo are redacted — but the foundational work obviously paid off, because an hour and a half after Trump spoke to Zelensky, Duffey notified the Defense Department that the aid for Ukraine would be delayed. That notification was required by law — although the Government Accountability Office recently concluded that the Trump administration broke the law by holding up that aid even though its disbursement was already Congressionally approved. There’s no indication that this conclusion will actually weigh on Republican Senators during Trump’s impeachment trial; this week, they’ve already voted along party lines against hearing witnesses until after opening debate.
Other details in the newly released batch of material include the offices of at least four different Republican members of Congress reaching out to OMB with questions about the aid delay. The aid was eventually delivered only after public pressure on the president was mounting and a whistleblower complaint emerged that, it turns out, outlined his bribery scheme. The evidence has kept piling up from there — for example, just in recent days, House investigators released another trove of evidence from Rudy Giuliani’s associate Lev Parnas, who documented the bribery scheme and the president’s role in it.