No Defense Department (DOD) officials listened in on the July call between President Trump and the Ukrainian president now at the center of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, the Pentagon’s top spokesman said Thursday, while adding that the department’s general counsel has directed all offices to provide documents related to aid received by Ukraine.
“To my knowledge, no one from the Department of Defense was on that call. I’ve specifically asked [Defense Secretary Mark Esper] that question and he was not on that call,” Jonathan Hoffman told reporters at the Pentagon.
The July 25 call in question involved Trump asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, seemingly pressuring the Ukraine leader in exchange for U.S. military aid.
The aid was first announced on June 18 but the Trump administration held up the nearly $400 million until Sept. 11.
Trump has acknowledged he delayed the money, citing alternate concerns about corruption or because he believes Europe is not contributing enough to Ukraine, though the Pentagon in a May letter said that Defense Department had certified that the nation had taken action against corruption.
Asked what had triggered the aid’s delay, despite the letter that had given the go-ahead for its release, Hoffman said he could not discuss “conversations between the department and the White House in terms of the timing of notices.”
Hoffman also told reporters that the DOD’s general counsel’s office has directed that all department offices should provide any pertinent documents and records related to the Ukrainian aid for “cataloging and review.”
He said it was “a fairly standard practice” and that there was interest from Congress and the Pentagon inspector general for a possible investigation.
“Out of an abundance of caution, they’ve taken the steps to have documents be preserved,” he said.
Hoffman added that he’s not aware of Congress reaching out to Esper for requests to testify on the matter.
Pressed by reporters on the DOD’s seeming lack of awareness of the call and whether it was cause for concern, Hoffman stressed that Esper “has a solid working relationship with the president, with [Secretary of State Mike Pompeo], with the national security adviser … that’s not a concern.”
“The secretary has an incredibly busy schedule and is working on a number of different issues at any one time. He doesn’t spend most of his days sitting in on other people’s phone calls,” he added.
Esper said last week that the aid’s delay did not affect U.S. national security, but that he would provide to lawmakers “whatever information we can provide with regard to this incident, with regard to this matter, just as we would with any other matter.”
Democratic lawmakers have launched a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump over whistleblower claims that Trump sought to use the Ukrainian funds as leverage in order to tarnish Biden, the current Democratic front-runner for the 2020 presidential nomination.