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House Democrats Release New Transcripts From Impeachment Inquiry

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

House Democrats released new transcripts tonight from the impeachment inquiry, including the testimony from the closed-door deposition from a senior career official at the White House budget office, Mark Sandy. The deposition focused on the hold put on aid to Ukraine, and White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe is here to tell us more about it.

Hey, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hello.

CHANG: So what did Mark Sandy have to say about why the White House froze millions of dollars of aid?

RASCOE: Well, Sandy says he didn't really get a reason why the money was being put on hold at first. He says that throughout July and August, he asked about it, but he was not given a reason and that it was an open question. And then finally, in early September, he says that the associate director for national security programs at OMB - this is a political appointee, Mike Duffey - that he sent an email and that that attributed the hold to the president being worried about other countries providing aid to Ukraine.

CHANG: OK.

RASCOE: But that kind of delay in the reasoning seems to underscore Democratic arguments that the rationale for the hold came after the hold was already done.

CHANG: Well...

RASCOE: Sandy and his colleagues did pool together data on, like, other countries' contributions to Ukraine after that email came in September, but Sandy said that he cannot remember another instance where assistance was held up and no reason was provided.

CHANG: Well, what particular concerns did Mark Sandy have about the hold?

RASCOE: Well, he was concerned that - he - well, he told OMB officials that they should consult with the Office of General Counsel because he was concerned that the funding authority for this money would expire at the end of the fiscal year, September 30. And then the money would go back to Treasury, and that would be a problem because there's this law called the Impoundment Control Act that essentially says that OMB cannot impound funds.

If money is appropriated by Congress and signed into law by the president, then it can be illegal to withhold that money. And for OMB to withhold that money, that would be impoundment. And so this is something that OMB is very aware of and is always considering when doling out money, and so that's what Sandy was concerned about - that they would be withholding money that, legally, they were required to give out.

CHANG: OK, so how does Sandy's testimony square with what acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has said about this hold on aid to Ukraine?

RASCOE: So Mulvaney - in that press conference that he did a while back, he listed three reasons for holding up the money - concerns about corruption, questions about whether Europe was contributing enough and wanting Ukraine to cooperate in these ongoing investigations into the DNC server and CrowdStrike. That's that debunked conspiracy theory about...

CHANG: Right.

RASCOE: ...A Ukrainian company kind of interfering in the 2016 election. Now, Mulvaney later walked back that idea that it had anything to do - that the hold had anything to do with investigations. But Sandy's testimony seems to show that there was confusion or that it wasn't even clear within the administration and within the agency that was holding the money why the money was being held up.

CHANG: OK. I understand that there was more testimony released in addition to Sandy's. Can you very briefly tell us about that additional testimony?

RASCOE: So they've released testimony from Phil Reeker, a senior State Department official. And he corroborated testimony about that whisper campaign against the former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch that came from the far-right media.

CHANG: All right. That's NPR's Ayesha Rascoe at the White House.

Thanks, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.

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