But the examples he gave on the Senate floor are also wrong for several other reasons. First, Sekulow compared Trump’s Ukraine aid actions with Obama’s secret delay of Egyptian military aid in 2013.
“It’s interesting to note that the Obama administration withheld $585 million of promised aid to Egypt in 2013, but the administration’s public message was that the money was not officially on hold as technically it was not due until September 30th, the end of the fiscal year, so that they didn’t have to disclose the halt to anyone,” he said. “It sounds like this may be a practice of a number of administrations.”
I actually broke that story in August 2013, and I remember it well. The Obama administration was trying to avoid publicly calling the Egyptian military’s July seizure of power a “coup,” for diplomatic reasons. But having internally concluded it was a coup, they decided to follow applicable laws requiring aid cutoffs. They just didn’t want to admit they believed it was a coup.
Obama was stopping the United States from becoming complicit in a brutal military crackdown. It didn’t stop the crackdown, and Congress just gave the Egyptian military the money the next year anyway. But it’s still the opposite of Trump withholding aid from an ally fighting for its democracy to subvert congressional intent.
Sekulow actually argued for withholding foreign aid to Egypt before the coup, because that government was led by Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi. He didn’t understand how foreign aid worked back then, either. In an op-ed two days before the coup, Sekulow blamed the Obama administration for sending military equipment to Egypt. If he had realized Morsi didn’t control the military, he would have known U.S. military aid was actually helping the military in its effort to depose the Islamist leader.
On the Senate floor Tuesday, Sekulow also compared Trump’s Ukraine aid actions to several other Trump administration aid decisions. He insisted that Trump is concerned about foreign aid writ large, dismissing the Ukraine funds as insignificant. He mentioned a cut of $100 million in aid to Afghanistan that the administration tied to corruption there, as well as cuts to Latin American countries Trump is trying to pressure to stem immigration flows.
There’s no doubt Trump is skeptical of all foreign aid and would like to cut it wherever possible. (Cutting aid to struggling Latin American countries will likely increase migration, not decrease it, but that’s a separate issue.) Regardless, in none of these examples has there been any hint that the aid is connected to political favors.
Sekulow also told the senators, “In August of 2019, President Trump announced that the administration were in talks to substantially increase South Korea’s share of the expense of U.S. military support for South Korea.”
Burden-sharing negotiations have nothing at all to do with foreign aid. The only similarity there with the Ukraine situation is that both are instances of Trump mistreating an ally by messing with its military funding while it faces real threats on its border. That’s not an analogy Trump’s lawyers should be eager to draw.
All of this analysis assumes that Sekulow is making these comparisons in good faith. If his goal is simply to amplify misleading talking points that Trump supporters can defend on Twitter, mission accomplished. But, in truth, Trump’s manipulation of Ukraine military aid to pressure an ally to help him politically is unprecedented.