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White House review finds emails showing debate over Ukraine aid

Posted at 7:43 AM, Nov 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-25 10:07:25-05

An internal White House review has uncovered emails between administration officials attempting to justify the decision to withhold military aid to Ukraine and debating the legality of the hold, which is now at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

The review, conducted by the White House counsel's office, was first reported by The Washington Post on Sunday.

The Post, citing three people familiar with the records, said the documents discovered include "early August email exchanges between acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House budget officials seeking to provide an explanation for withholding the funds."

Two senior administration officials confirmed the emails' existence to CBS News. Those close to Mulvaney see the revelation of the review as the latest salvo in an internal struggle between Mulvaney and White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who has been angling to replace Mulvaney as chief of staff.

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) ordered the hold on the funds in the weeks before President Trump's July 25 call with the Ukrainian president, in which Mr. Trump urged him to open investigations into the Bidens and events in the 2016 campaign.

A spokeswoman for OMB said the office followed standard protocol in ordering the delay.

"To be clear, there was a legal consensus at every step of the way that the money could be withheld in order to conduct the policy review," said Rachel Semmel. "OMB works closely with agencies on executing the budget. Routine practices and procedures were followed."

A source familiar with Mulvaney's legal strategy tells CBS News that Mulvaney will not testify in the impeachment inquiry, regardless of the outcome of litigation over testimony by former White House officials. Mulvaney had attempted to join one such lawsuit but eventually dropped that effort and said he would comply with a White House order not to cooperate.

The source said Mulvaney's legal team believes that if executive privilege extends to just one person beyond the president, it's the acting chief of staff, a position they are willing to defend in court.