Top DOD official who certified Ukraine could receive aid never got 'very clear explanation' on delay

By Tony Bertuca / December 4, 2019 at 10:39 AM

The senior Pentagon official who certified in May that Ukraine should receive $250 million in U.S. military aid because it had made sufficient progress combating corruption said today he never got a "very clear explanation" from the White House as to why the funds were delayed over the summer.

"In the weeks after signing the certification I did become aware that the aid had been held," John Rood, the under secretary of defense for policy, told reporters this morning.

"I never received a very clear explanation other than there were concerns about corruption in Ukraine," he continued.

The delayed aid is at the center of an impeachment investigation into President Trump. Democrats, backed by testimony from current and former government officials, allege Trump sought to leverage the funds to pressure the Ukrainian government into announcing an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. Biden is a leading Democratic candidate for the 2020 presidential nomination and the investigation could have benefited Trump politically.

Trump says he did nothing wrong and he his being defended by many Republicans who say his concerns about corruption in Ukraine were well-founded.

Rood said he learned of the White House hold on the aid, which was part of a larger $400 million assistance package, "significantly after May," when he certified that Ukraine had made sufficient anti-corruption progress to receive the aid.

"It was a requirement under the law that we certify that and I was the person that certified it," he said.

Democrats have pointed out that Rood’s letter undercuts the Trump administration's continued assertion that the president ordered the aid withheld because of concerns about corruption.

Rood also said he cannot recall from memory which defense secretary knew of the delayed aid and when because there were three different acting Pentagon chiefs during that period -- Pat Shanahan, Richard Spencer and Mark Esper.

Esper was eventually confirmed as defense secretary July 23. The hold on the aid was released in September.

Rood said "the people serving in the role of the secretary of defense were aware of the situation," but could not provide an exact answer as to which ones were briefed about it.

"Certainly, the secretary of defense was kept apprised of those things," he said.

The Pentagon, along with other executive branch agencies, has refused to comply with House subpoenas related to the aid and the impeachment investigation.

Esper and other defense officials have sought to distance the Pentagon from the situation, though one senior official, Laura Cooper, agreed to testify privately and publicly, saying she pushed to have the aid released and became worried when it was not distributed.

The focus of the aid is to help Ukraine deter Russian military aggression, partly with anti-tank weapons.

Rood today sought to frame the issue as one of "execution" in which DOD has now sent all but $8.5 million of the aid to Ukraine and will distribute the rest in the coming months.

"Our desire has been to work with our Ukrainian colleagues to provide security assistance as envisioned," he said.