“So it gets held up for 55 days, gets held up on … July 18 and then is released on September 11,” Jordan said. “But it seems to me more important than the 55-day pause is the 14 days when Ukraine realized aid was held up on [Aug. 29]. … So aid gets held up on August — I mean, Ukraine learns aid is held up on August 29. And then, of course, released on — released on September 11th.”
His point was that, during those 14 days, there were meetings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which there’s no record of anyone linking the hold on aid to the investigations that President Trump hoped Zelensky would announce.
It’s worth noting, however, that the timeline as presented by Jordan is in dispute. Testimony from a dozen witnesses suggests that most of those involved in the interactions with Ukraine understood the timeline as Jordan does. But several outliers, people in better position to know, suggest the aid halt began as early as the beginning of July — and that Ukraine was aware of it later that month.
The first testimony offered about the withheld aid came from Sondland, who told investigators he didn’t know about any quid pro quo underway in May or June.
“The only thing I was aware of that was that there was to be some kind of acknowledgment of corruption investigation at that point, I believe,” Sondland said in his original closed-door testimony.
In fact, at that point, the aid was on track for release. Mandated checks to ensure Ukraine had made progress on corruption had been completed. On June 18, the Defense Department publicly announced it would release military aid to Ukraine.
“The Ukraine Embassy and the Ukraine Government thanked us for making that public,” the Defense Department’s Laura Cooper testified. “They had been looking for a public acknowledgment of the assistance, not because this was unusual, just — they appreciate it when allies publicly note what kind of support we’re providing Ukraine.”
But soon after, clouds began to gather. By early July, the hold was known within the administration.
“It’s possible I had some earlier indications in late June as the departments would alert me to the fact that they were getting queries from the Office of Budget and Management, you know, asking questions that, in their view, you know, were abnormal on something of that nature,” testified Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. “But by JuIy 3rd, that’s when I was concretely made aware of the fact that there was a hold placed by OMB.”
He shared that with Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Pence.
“I saw an email — or I suppose, a written update, electronically, that was drafted by Alex Vindman, reporting — internally reporting that the State Department had notified him that OMB was not clearing the latest round of congressional notification documents to move the next tranche of security assistance for Ukraine,” she testified. “At least OMB and State knew about it,” she later added.
In her testimony on Wednesday, Cooper similarly indicated that her staff had received an email on that date obliquely referencing a halt to aid.
Prepping Pence for a meeting with Ukraine’s then-defense minister on July 9, she indicated she had told Pence that OMB was holding assistance “just in case it came up.”
Not everyone knew. Fiona Hill, then a White House adviser, testified that as of July 10 she didn’t believe that then-national security adviser John Bolton knew about the aid stoppage.
“It had not been discussed,” she testified.
The State Department’s Christopher Anderson left his position in mid-July and testified that he, too, didn’t know about the aid halt before he left.
During a video conference call on July 18, the halt became widely known. Catherine Croft, a Ukraine specialist at the State Department, described the meeting.
“On July 18, I participated in a … video conference where an OMB representative reported that the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, had placed an informal hold on security assistance to Ukraine,” she testified. “The only reason given was that the order came at the direction of the president. I had heard about the hold before that date, but I do not remember the specific date.”
She suggested the announcement came because of a question from George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state.
“Kent pointedly asked: I heard that there was a hold on security assistance,” she testified. “And that of course — and that was sort of towards the end of the meeting, but of course that blew up the meeting.”
When Hill left the administration on July 19, “there wasn’t an explanation” for the hold, according to her testimony. She noted, though, that this was a period in which the White House was scrambling to find funding for a wall on the border with Mexico.
On July 23, Hill’s successor, Tim Morrison, chaired a meeting in which the aid was discussed. It was during that meeting that he learned Ukraine had already met the necessary preconditions for receiving the aid. At the meeting, Cooper testified, the halt was again attributed loosely to the White House.
In a chain of emails afterward, Undersecretary of State David Hale expressed frustration.
“I reacted to that and said: Who is saying this? That a lower-level aide cannot just stop assistance based on say-so,” he testified. “And I didn’t want — I was not satisfied that someone just saying there was a presidential directive actually even meant that the president had done this. I wanted clarity. I wanted a name of a named person who was saying: This is the president’s wish.”
Two days later, Trump and Zelensky spoke on the phone. Aid wasn’t discussed.
“I don’t think the Ukrainians were aware” of the aid stoppage, Vindman, who was on the call, testified. Trump’s effort to get Ukraine to launch new investigations was instead “all about getting the bilateral meeting” at the White House with Trump.
Cooper, in her testimony on Wednesday, suggested that they did know that day.
“On July 25th, a member of my staff got a question from a Ukraine embassy contact asking what was going on with Ukraine security assistance,” she testified. “Because at that time we did not know what the guidance was on [the assistance] … I was informed that the staff member told the Ukrainian official that we were moving forward on [defense aid] but recommended that the Ukraine embassy check in with state” regarding other aid.
Her staff received another email at 4:25 p.m. that day, hours after the Trump-Zelensky call. “That email said that the Hill knows about the [aid] situation to an extent,” Cooper testified, “and so does the Ukrainian embassy.”
During another meeting that day, Hale got the answer to his question about who’d stopped the aid.
“OMB stated on the record that it was the president through Chief of Staff [Mick] Mulvaney,” he said. Those in attendance, representing a range of government organizations and departments, expressed concern about the halt.
The departments “either … endorsed the resumption of military aid, or they spoke of their own aid programs and indicated they wanted their programs to continue as well,” Hale said. He later added that “the lone objection came from the — directly from the representative of OMB.”
During her testimony, Cooper was asked about a letter issued by Mark Sandy of the OMB, signed on July 25. It references a conversation between OMB and the Defense Department on that day related to Ukraine aid and the “brief pause in obligations."
There was still broad uncertainty about why the aid had been stopped. In another meeting on July 26, it came up again.
“All I had to go on was that the president is concerned about corruption in Ukraine and somehow therefore we were holding security assistance,” Cooper testified. “So the conversation at the deputies [meeting], a lot of the members were saying, you know, corruption: Yes, it’s been an issue. Yes, it’s a concern. Yes, there’s a long way to go, but we’re on the right path, you know, we can move forward. So it felt like a conversation where people were trying to explain how corruption shouldn’t be a concern.”
Meanwhile, Sondland was meeting with Zelensky in Ukraine. Aid didn’t come up.
In another meeting on July 31, Cooper expressed concern about the mechanism for stopping the aid.
“My understanding was that there were two legally available mechanisms should the president want to stop assistance,” she testified. “And the one mechanism would be a presidential rescission notice to the Congress and the other mechanism, as I understood it and articulated it in that meeting, was for the Defense Department to do a reprogramming action. But I mentioned that either way, there would need to be a notification to Congress.”
“That did not occur,” she added.
According to Morrison, aid hadn’t been released at that point because “we were still waiting for an opportunity for principals to engage the president” — that is, for senior officials to broach the subject with Trump.
On Aug. 3, Hale testified, there was an announced freeze on a number of foreign aid accounts. Meanwhile, an Aug. 6 deadline was set related to the Ukraine aid, but Cooper saw that as arbitrary.
“I think it was trying to put something down on paper that would reflect there will be some kind of a policy process, there will be some kind of a discussion with the president,” she said last month. “You know, we’ll give a date that allows for a process to play out. But, you know, we won’t go much beyond that because DOD’s signaling right away was, you know, we’re concerned about this.”
That same week, she testified on Wednesday, her staff was informed that Ukraine was focused on the stoppage.
“Sometime during the week of August 6 to 10, a Ukraine embassy officer told a member of my staff that a Ukrainian official might raise concerns about security assistance in an upcoming meeting,” she said. “My understanding is that the issue was not in fact raised. Again, I have no further information about what concerns about the security assistance Ukraine may have had at that time.”
At some point after the aid halt was broadly known, Croft indicated that Ukrainian officials had raised it with her.
“I think it was sort of known among the circles that do Ukraine security assistance, sort of gradually, as I said,” she testified. “From July 18 on it was sort of inevitable that it was eventually going to come out.”
Vindman also testified that he thought Ukraine knew in the “early to mid-August timeline.”
That Ukraine learned so quickly, though, startled Croft.
“I remember being very surprised at the effectiveness of my Ukrainian counterparts’ diplomatic tradecraft, as in to say they found out very early on, much earlier than I expected them to,” she testified. She also noted that there was good reason for Ukraine not to make the aid halt public themselves: They thought they could resolve the issues without suggesting to the world that the United States was scaling back its support.
The reason for the aid halt was still unclear. Kent testified, though, that in mid-August he didn’t believe that it was linked to investigations.
On Aug. 16, Trump was at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. Bolton planned to go there and address the aid halt with him. According to Morrison, though, he did not have time.
Cooper testified that she believed Ukraine might have been aware of the aid hold on Aug. 20, given something that Ukraine special envoy Kurt Volker said. (Volker, for his part, said that Ukraine only learned after Politico published an article about the aid stoppage later in the month.)
On Aug. 22, Morrison and acting Ukraine ambassador William B. Taylor Jr. spoke.
Morrison “told me during this call that the president doesn’t want to provide any assistance at all,” Taylor indicated. “That was extremely troubling to me.”
In this same period, with a trip to Poland planned, Pence asked Williams to compile a status report on the aid. Bolton came to Ukraine on Aug. 27 and met with Zelensky; according to Taylor, aid wasn’t discussed.
The next day, the Politico article came out. That triggered alarmed messages from a senior Zelensky aide.
“That is the first public announcement of that that I’m aware of,” testified David Holmes, a political counselor to Ukraine who’d learned of the aid halt on July 18. But, he added, “I’m not sure that they hadn’t caught wind of this in various ways earlier.”
“Once it became apparent” the aid had been withheld, Vindman testified, “it was an added pressure point to obtain the deliverable”: the investigations sought by Trump.
Trump had been planning to travel to Poland. Bolton, Holmes testified, “indicated the hold on security assistance would not be lifted prior to the Warsaw meeting, where it would hang on whether President Zelensky was able to, quote, unquote, ‘favorably impress President Trump.’ ”
With Hurricane Dorian approaching, though, Trump stayed in the U.S.
“After the trip was canceled, Ambassador Taylor also told me that Ambassador Bolton recommended that Ambassador Taylor send a first-person cable to [Secretary of State] Pompeo articulating the importance of the security assistance,” Holmes said. “At Ambassador Taylor’s direction, I drafted and transmitted the cable August 29th, which further attempted to explain Ukraine’s importance and the importance of the security assistance to U.S. national security.”
“It struck me as an extremely professional and well-argued case for continuing our security assistance for Ukraine,” Hale testified, “laying out all of the pros and all of the cons if we were not to do that.”
“I believe it was the cable that prompted it but the next day the European Bureau … wrote a memo which I would have seen at the time that, quote, ‘the clock is ticking’ on the time needed in order to provide the assistance,” Hale added later, “and, again, asking for — I think that the intention was to remind people that we needed to try to get this done.”
The clock was ticking because the fiscal year ended on Sept. 30. If the aid wasn’t allocated by then, it would be lost. That was news to the Ukrainian defense minister, to whom Taylor broke the news on Sept. 1.
On that day, a number of meetings happened in Warsaw. Pence met with Zelensky, where he linked the aid to the U.S. having “great concerns about issues of corruption.” But, Morrison testified, he was “one hundred percent” certain that Pence didn’t tie the aid directly to investigations.
In a separate meeting, Sondland did, telling Zelensky’s aide that assistance was being held until the investigations were announced, according to Sondland’s revised testimony. That assertion quickly made its way to Morrison and Taylor.
On Sept. 5, Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) met with Zelensky. Johnson had been informed by Sondland that Sondland thought the aid was linked to Trump’s desired investigations, something that Trump only loosely rebutted. During the meeting with Zelensky, though, “there was not discussion of linkage,” according to Taylor — though Holmes testified that Zelensky again raised the issue.
Morrison, meanwhile, was “growing pessimistic that we would be able to see the tumblers align to get the right people in the room with the presidents to get the aid released,” he testified. Referring to the desired investigations, one of which targeted possible 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Morrison added that he “did not think it was a good idea for the Ukrainian president to … involve himself in our politics.”
The release of the aid “was quite abrupt,” Cooper testified. “We got — I believe we got an email. And it really came quite out of the blue.”
Holmes testified that he was concerned that the aid was only released because Zelensky had agreed to conduct an interview with CNN in which he announced new investigations. He and Taylor raised that concern with Zelensky at a meeting two days later. Pence met with Zelensky again on Sept. 18, a follow-up to their “successful meeting” on Sept. 1, according to Williams.
Six days later, the impeachment inquiry began.
Correction: An earlier version of this article quoted Hale's testimony about knowing of the aid halt in late June. During his testimony on Wednesday, he corrected his prior testimony.