AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
President Trump has repeatedly said that corruption was his driving concern about giving Ukraine millions of dollars in military aid.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We are supporting a country. We want to make sure that country is honest. It's very important to talk about corruption. If you don't talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?
CORNISH: In fact, the White House did hold up hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine prior to President Trump's July call with the Ukrainian president. However, now NPR has obtained documentation that appears to undercut President Trump's concern about Ukrainian corruption.
Joining me now to talk about this is NPR national security correspondent David Welna. Welcome to the studio.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.
CORNISH: So what is this document that calls into question Trump's rationale for holding up aid?
WELNA: This is a letter that was sent to four congressional committees in May by the under secretary of defense for policy, John Rood at the Pentagon. And it's kind of a routine thing. Ukraine is a country that's notorious for its corruption. And so Congress has stipulated that if there's going to be any military aid sent there, first, there has to be a certification that they have made enough improvement in their efforts to fight corruption to deserve getting that aid. And that letter, which NPR has obtained today, says that Rood tells Congress, I have certified that the government of Ukraine has taken substantial actions to make defense institutional reforms for the purposes of decreasing corruption and increasing accountability. So he's very clearly saying that while there may still be problems in Ukraine, this is - this country is deserving to get this aid, kind of undercutting what President Trump was saying about corruption in Ukraine.
CORNISH: All right, I want people to keep following this because I understand the Pentagon actually put out a press release - this is in June - announcing that it was providing $250 million in military aid to Ukraine.
WELNA: Yes. This was the following month. And it seemed that the Pentagon had every idea that it was going to go ahead and give Ukraine this aid, that it had no clue that this money was going to be cut off. But suddenly it was by the White House. And this was, of course, as you said, before President Trump called the newly elected president, Zelenskiy. And there are real concerns about why, in fact, he did cut out that aid.
CORNISH: And of course, the president has also given another explanation for holding up that aid for more than two months. What was it?
WELNA: Well, he says that it's out of concern that European nations were not contributing enough to Ukraine in terms of assistance. And that would suggest that the U.S. was using the withholding of that aid to try to pressure European countries. But I've checked with a number of European embassies here in Washington who tell me that they perceived no effort whatsoever on the part of the U.S. government to force them to increase their contributions. In fact, they pointed out that they've actually given nearly as much as the U.S. has in aid to Ukraine. And they say that they really see no sign that this was a concern at the White House.
CORNISH: So undercutting these rationales from the president for withholding aid, how significant is this?
WELNA: Well, you know, President Trump says that he was not looking for a quid pro quo from President Zelenskiy of Ukraine in asking him to investigate Joe Biden in exchange for releasing this aid. But the explanations he's given for withholding that aid haven't really stood up against this new evidence that's come forward. I'm sure the Congress is going to have many more questions about this as they hold hearings in the weeks to come. But President Trump changed his explanation from concerns about corruption to concerns about contributions already this week. We may hear more.
CORNISH: That's NPR national security correspondent David Welna. Thank you.
WELNA: You're welcome, Audie.
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