Politics

Judge Orders Federal Agencies to Release Ukraine Documents in Response to FOIA Request

A federal judge on Nov. 26 issued a preliminary injunction ordering two federal agencies to begin releasing documents related to the Trump administrations dealings with Ukraine by Dec. 12, saying the records were of public interest.

The documents were sought under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), a nonprofit news organization.

United States District Judge for the District Court for the District of Columbia, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, on Monday ruled that the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) produce the records. The records required are related to the Trump administrations alleged withholding of military aid to Ukraine—a central complaint amid the ongoing impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

House Democrats have alleged that the White House withheld $400 million in military aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigations, which President Trump has denied.

NEW: A federal judge has granted @publicintegrity a preliminary injunction in their FOIA lawsuit seeking OMB/Defense Dept. docs on the withholding of Ukraine aid. She orders the agencies to release all non-exempt docs by 12/20, with first batch due 12/12. https://t.co/86WCuuJ9aA pic.twitter.com/wnf430dZXG

— Jacqueline Thomsen (@jacq_thomsen) Nov. 25, 2019

Kollar-Kotelly handed the federal agencies a deadline to release the 211 pages of records, which include communications between the Pentagon, the Pentagons comptroller, and OMB. At least half the responsive, non-exempt records—about 106 pages—must be released by Dec. 12, while the rest must be produced by Dec. 20, the ruling (pdf) states.

The judge ruled that the documents are of public interest as the news outlet requested the information to inform the public about matters relating to the impeachment proceedings.

“The records sought by Plaintiff go to the core of the impeachment proceedings as alleged—whether or not President Trump and his administration withheld payments under the USAI (Pentagons Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative) in order to pressure Ukraine to conduct an investigation,” Kollar-Kotelly wrote.

“As an impeachment proceeding has the potential to result in the removal of the president from office, the current impeachment proceedings are of the highest national concern.

“Only an informed electorate can develop its opinions and persuasively petition its elected officials to act in ways which further the aims of those opinions.”

Amid the whistleblowers claims that the president had suspended all security assistance to Ukraine, a senior administration official told The Epoch Times on Oct. 2 that the United States military aid was sent as scheduled.

The senior administration official claimed the aid underwent a routine review process after a so-called footnote was placed on the funds to Ukraine and was disbursed on or ahead of schedule. The aid underwent the review around the time White House officials were considering a broad range of foreign aid cuts.

Instead of the abrupt suspension, the aid package underwent a typical process, the administration spokesman said. The budget office was simultaneously considering a rescissions package that could impact nine other countries.

“This was not like an outlier thing as far as making sure this money goes in the right place. It was a typical process. Its been done several times. Its not anything abnormal as far as the way it went,” an official familiar with the process said.

Instead of being delayed or held back, the money was sent out once the policy process was completed, the official added. The funds, which were set to expire on Sept. 30, went out in early to mid-September, according to the Department of Defense.

Congress approved $250 million in funds for Ukraine, known as the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. The fund was created in 2015 in response to Russias annexation of Crimea.

Trump tasked Esper and then-national security adviser John Bolton to review the Ukraine aid to make sure the money wasnt wasted and that allies were paying their fair share.

“The president has the full authority to do what he feels is right with the money regarding the process,” the administration official said.

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