A newly-released government email has revealed that the White House sought to freeze aid to Ukraine just 91 minutes after President Donald Trump spoke to President Volodymyr Zelensky by phone in July.
The email, telling the Pentagon to “hold off”, was sent by a senior White House official.
In the phone call, President Trump asked the Ukrainian leader to investigate his political rival, Democrat Joe Biden.
On December 18, President Trump has been impeached for abuse of power over the issue.
Democrats say the phone call shows Donald Trump used the office for personal political gain.
A US whistleblower who heard about the conversation raised concerns, which ultimately triggered the impeachment inquiry.
The president was formally impeached by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, but is unlikely to be removed from office as the case will go to trial in the Senate, where his Republican party has a majority.
The newly-released email was obtained by the Center for Public Integrity following a court order in a freedom of information case.
The email shows that Mike Duffey, a senior White House official, contacted senior defense officials about withholding Ukraine’s aid just over an hour-and-a-half after President Trump ended a call with President Zelensky on July 25.
The transcript shows President Trump asked Volodymyr Zelensky to “do us a favor” and investigate Joe Biden, currently a frontrunner to be the Democratic candidate in the 2020 White House race, and his son Hunter Biden, who had previously worked for a Ukrainian energy company.
In the email Mike Duffey asks that the Department of Defense “hold off” on providing aid following the administration’s plan to review.
The email reads: “Given the sensitive nature of the request, I appreciate your keeping that information closely held to those who need to know to execute direction.”
In a statement released to media on December 22, Rachel Semmel, a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget, dismissed the characterization of the email.
State department official David Holmes has said at the impeachment inquiry that a US diplomat told Donald Trump Ukraine would carry out investigations the president had asked for.
David Holmes said he had overheard this during a call in July between President Trump and the US envoy to the EU, Gordon Sondland.
He said the call came a day after President Trump asked Ukraine to probe ex-VP Joe Biden.
President Trump has dismissed the impeachment inquiry as “presidential harassment”.
The inquiry is investigating whether Donald Trump withheld US military aid to Ukraine in order to pressure the country’s new President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce a corruption inquiry into Joe Biden, now his rival for the presidency.
On November 15, President Trump launched a Twitter attack on another witness – former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
He tweeted in the middle of her testimony: “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad.
“She started off in Somalia, how did that go?”
Asked for her response, Marie Yovanovitch called it “very intimidating”.
President Trump later hit back, arguing his tweets were not intimidating “at all”. He told reporters he had watched part of the impeachment hearing and considered it “a disgrace”.
David Holmes testified behind closed doors before us lawmakers in Washington DC.
The diplomatic aid said he had overheard the phone call between President Trump and Ambassador Sondland in which “investigations” are said to have been discussed.
He said Gordon Sondland called President Trump from a restaurant in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv on July 26, 2019.
According to a copy of his opening statement obtained by CBS News, David Holmes said: “Sondland told Trump that [Ukrainian President] Zelensky ‘loves your ass.'”
“I then heard President Trump ask, ‘So, he’s gonna do the investigation?’
“Ambassador Sondland replied that ‘he’s gonna do it’, adding that President Zelensky will do ‘anything you ask him to’.”
Observers have drawn attention to the security implications of making the call from a restaurant, potentially exposing the conversation to eavesdropping by Russian intelligence.
David Holmes’ deposition appears to corroborate the testimony given to the impeachment inquiry by US ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor on November 13.
Bill Taylor said one of his aides heard the same chat.
The aide said President Trump had asked about “investigations” and Gordon Sondland had replied that Ukraine was ready to move forward.
According to Bill Taylor, Gordon Sondland then told the aide that the president cared more about the investigation of the Bidens than anything else involving Ukraine.
The call – which Donald Trump has denied any knowledge of – allegedly happened the day after the now-famous Trump-Zelensky phone call.
While giving her evidence, Marie Yovanovitch was alerted to the president’s criticism by the hearing’s chairman Adam Schiff.
Responding directly to Donald Trump’s tweet, in which he appeared to blame her for upheaval in Somalia, Marie Yovanovitch replied: “I don’t think I have such powers, not in Mogadishu and Somalia and not in other places.
“I actually think that where I’ve served over the years I and others have demonstrably made things better, you know, for the US as well as for the countries that I’ve served in.”
Marie Yovanovitch’s response was broadcast live during the televised hearing.
Adam Schiff, the Democratic Chairman of the Intelligence Committee overseeing the impeachment inquiry, suggested the president’s tweets could be classed as witness intimidation.
Marie Yovanovitch was removed as ambassador to Kyiv in May, two months before a controversial phone call between President Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, which is now key to the inquiry.