President Donald Trump has denied claims he put a freeze on military aid for Ukraine to pressure the country to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son.
Trump reportedly placed $391 million in military aid to Ukraine on hold ahead of a July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, according to the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. The move to stall U.S. military aid has been seen by some as a pressure tactic on Zelensky, though an unnamed source for the Wall Street Journal suggested the spending freeze reflected prior concerns about U.S. aid spending.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump, along with then-National Security Adviser John Bolton and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, had begun scrutinizing Ukraine aid spending back in June — before the July call with Zelensky.
The apparent pause in foreign aid prior to the call has been coupled with whistleblower accusations that Trump tried to pressure Zelensky into investigating Biden, during the July phone call.
During impromptu comments to reporters gathered at the United Nations on Tuesday, Trump defended the decision to withhold aid from Ukraine out of a concern for a lack of support for Ukraine from other European countries.
“The [Ukraine] funds were paid, fully paid, but my complaint has always been, and I’d withhold again and I’ll continue to withhold, until such time as Europe and other nations contribute to Ukraine,” Trump said.
The European Union has provided the equivalent of roughly $16.5 billion in assistance to help the Ukraine fight off Russian encroachments.
The potential of a Ukrainian investigation of Biden may stem from his son Hunter Biden’s time working on the board of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings. The company was then owned by Mykola Zlochevskiy, who served as an ecology minister under the ousted President Viktor Yanukovych.
The company came under investigation over allegations that it profited from illegal gas production licenses under Zlochevskiy’s ministry.
Then-Vice President Biden, while serving as a point man for Ukrainian relations under then-President Barrack Obama, reportedly pressured the Kiev government to fire the prosecutor investigating Burisma.
In Monday comments to Wall Street Journal reporters, Trump also raised concerns of corruption in Ukraine but denied withholding funds from Ukraine simply to force an investigation of Biden.
“I did not make a statement that you have to do this or I won’t give you aid,” Trump said.
He said he didn’t put any pressure on them “whatsoever” but suggested that even if he had, it probably would have still been “OK” from a legal standpoint.