US President Donald Trump ordered his staff to freeze nearly $400m in aid to Ukraine a few days before a phone call in which he pressured the Eastern European nation’s leader to investigate the family of political rival Joe Biden, a new reports says, as more Democrats move towards impeachment proceedings.
Trump’s order was first reported by The Washington Post and was confirmed to The Associated Press by two people familiar with but not authorised to discuss private conversations. They spoke on condition of anonymity.
Late on Monday, an influential group of freshmen Democrats who served in the military and national security before winning office said Trump’s actions cut to the core of the country’s defences. Their views, as centrist lawmakers from previously Republican-held districts where Trump has been popular, hold sway with party leadership.
At issue is a summer phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump is said to have pushed for investigations into Biden. In the days before that call, Trump ordered the aid to Ukraine frozen.
Trump has insisted he did nothing wrong and denied that any requests for help in procuring damaging information about Biden were tied to the aid freeze.
Democrats, and some Republicans, urged the White House to be open about his actions, which are at the centre of a whistle-blower complaint. But with no new information from the administration forthcoming, more than a dozen Democrats, including some in House leadership, added their names to those calling for impeachment proceedings.
The sudden rush of activity shows the extent to which Trump’s call to the foreign leader, and his subsequent comments about the conversation, are raising further questions about whether the president improperly used his office to pressure another country as a way of helping his own reelection prospects.
“These allegations are stunning, both in the national security threat they pose and the potential corruption they represent,” wrote the seven freshmen, who include a former Navy pilot, soldiers, officers and intelligence analysts.
“We do not arrive at this conclusion lightly,” the lawmakers wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. The lawmakers include Representatives Gil Cisneros of California, Jason Crow of Colorado, Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, Elaine Luria of Virginia, Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia.
“These new allegations are a threat to all we have sworn to protect. We must preserve the checks and balances envisioned by the Founders and restore the trust of the American people in our government. And that is what we intend to do.”