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AFP
January 17, 2020

Impeachment inquiry: ‘Trump knew what was going on in Ukraine’

World

AFP
January 17, 2020

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump “knew exactly what was going on” with an alleged campaign to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate political rival Joe Biden, an indicted member his inner circle told US media.

Trump has strongly denied allegations he ordered a campaign pressuring Ukrainian officials to investigate the business dealings of former vice president Biden and his son, part of the impeachment inquiry that will formally read out charges facing the president in the Senate Thursday.

Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, told MSNBC on Wednesday that “President Trump knew exactly what was going on.”

“He was aware of all my movements. I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president.” On Tuesday Democrats released newly acquired files that showed Giuliani working with Parnas early last year to pressure Kiev to investigate Biden. They also showed the two, working with Ukrainian officials, trying to force out the US ambassador to the country, Marie Yovanovitch, who was eventually removed by Trump.

Parnas, a Soviet-born American, was arrested on charges of campaign finance violations in October as he attempted to flee the country, and was ordered to turn over key documents to House investigators.

Representative Adam Schiff, who had led the investigation and who will now lead the prosecution against Trump, said previously that Parnas “reportedly worked with Giuliani to pressure Ukraine for dirt on Trump’s opponents.”

The president has denied all wrongdoing, and sought to distance himself from Parnas when he was arrested in October – along with his business partner.

“I don’t know those gentlemen... I don’t know what they do,” Trump said last year. “Maybe you will have to ask Rudy.”

Meanwhile, the White House budget office “violated the law” by freezing military aid to put political pressure on Ukraine’s government, a US congressional watchdog announced Thursday as President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial looms.

The damning report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office says it “issued a legal decision concluding that the Office of Management and Budget violated the law when it withheld approximately $214 million appropriated to DOD (Department of Defense) for security assistance to Ukraine.”

Congress passed legislation appropriating the financial assistance to Ukraine last year as a way to provide a much-needed boost to the country’s national security efforts amid a deadly military conflict with Russia that began in 2014.

The House impeachment inquiry concluded that Trump’s administration improperly withheld the aid as leverage in an effort to get Ukraine to open investigations that would help the president politically.

“OMB withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act,” the GAO said, noting that the budget office actively took steps to make the funds “unavailable” despite being congressionally appropriated.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” it said.

The report’s damning assessment landed just as Trump’s impeachment trial was set to convene in the US Senate. It follows a bombshell revelation on Wednesday that an associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani directly implicated him in the scandal, saying the president “knew exactly what was going on” in Ukraine. The House impeachment inquiry accuses Trump of pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, his potential Democratic rival in the November election, and Biden’s son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company when his father was US vice president.