To avoid the embarrassment of bipartisan censure on Capitol Hill, the Trump administration has released $250 million in aid for Ukraine, one of the president’s closest congressional allies revealed Thursday.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) told senators on the Appropriations Committee that the White House released the money Wednesday night, on the eve of the panel’s defense spending debate, because officials knew that lawmakers were weighing a proposal to tie up $5 billion of next year’s defense budget pending release of Ukraine’s aid.

The money, which was set aside as part of the 2019 federal budget, is to help Ukraine fend off a Russian-backed separatist uprising in its eastern territories. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30, and lawmakers want to direct another $250 million of defense funding toward Ukraine in the next fiscal year.

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Graham’s announcement came as a relief to many on the panel, especially Republicans, who pointed to the administration’s move as evidence that President Trump could be trusted to distribute such funding in the future. Democrats called the administration’s brinkmanship proof that the president would continue to be unreliable about supporting foreign allies contending with Russian aggression.

“The administration asked for the money, was given the money and then refused to spend the money until last night. . . . Why the delay?” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who proposed that lawmakers hold back part of the fiscal 2020 defense budget to pressure Trump over the Ukraine aid.

“In this [2020] bill, we have another $250 million,” Durbin said. “I just want to make sure it is spent in a timely way to help the people in Ukraine.”

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The Trump administration’s decision, and ensuing debate on Capitol Hill, came just a week after the administration announced it would divert $770 million in military construction funds that Congress budgeted to help Europe defend against an attack from Russia and use it instead to pay for the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The funding shift was part of a broader emergency declaration Trump issued to access $3.6 billion from military construction accounts worldwide to pay for the border wall. Democrats tried but failed Thursday to insert language into the defense spending bill that would have prevented the administration from similarly diverting next year’s defense funds.

“There is near-panic in Ukraine today about America’s commitment,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who recently returned from Ukraine, told other members of the Appropriations Committee. “They are desperate for a bipartisan signal from the United States that we remain with them.”

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Administration officials insist aid to Ukraine has been flowing to the country, pointing to $141.5 million in State Department-managed military aid for the government in Kiev that was announced as approved Thursday.

Most Republicans on the panel also played down Democrats’ concerns that the Trump administration would jeopardize Ukraine’s struggle against Russia, defending the president for having been circumspect about releasing money to Ukraine’s new administration. Earlier this year, Ukrainians elected Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian who had portrayed the president of Ukraine in a popular television program, to be the country’s actual president.

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said that when Congress added the funds for 2019, Zelensky was an unknown among U.S. lawmakers. “It was entirely reasonable,” he said, “that the United States spend a couple of months getting to know him, figure out if he was pro-Russian or pro-Western.”

Durbin eventually agreed to withdraw his amendment.

In a statement Thursday, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said he called Trump on Wednesday night and asked him to release the security funds for Ukraine, thanking him for doing so and calling Zelensky “a strong ally of the United States.”

Carol Morello contributed to this report.

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