'Devastating blow': Schumer says newly revealed emails show why Senate GOP needs to allow impeachment witnesses

There was "clear direction" from Trump to freeze aid to Ukraine, a White House budget official wrote in one of the emails obtained by Just Security.

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By Rebecca Shabad

WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Thursday that documents exposed in a newly released report justify the argument by Democrats to hold a full-fledged trial in the Senate to weigh whether President Donald Trump should be removed from office.

In a statement Thursday, Schumer pointed to the new report from the website Just Security that details documents relating to the president’s campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens as his administration froze nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine.

"The newly-revealed unredacted emails are a devastating blow to Sen. McConnell’s push to have a trial without the documents and witnesses we’ve requested. These emails further expose the serious concerns raised by Trump administration officials about the propriety and legality of the president’s decision to cut off aid to Ukraine to benefit himself," Schumer said.

The new report stems from unredacted versions of documents seen by Just Security, a national security website affiliated with the New York University School of Law. The documents were originally released in heavily redacted form last month by the government, under court order, to the Center for Public Integrity. Just Security said that it had since viewed unredacted copies of those emails. NBC News has not confirmed the emails independently and Just Security declined to provide them.

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The documents, according to the report, reveal that on Aug. 30, after meeting with Trump, Michael Duffey, associate director of national security programs at the Office of Management and Budget, told Elaine McCusker, the acting Pentagon comptroller, in an email that there was "Clear direction from [Trump] to hold" the aid and he let her know that he’d soon be sending new paperwork extending the hold.

The emails also showcase the growing tensions between the White House and the Department of Defense over the hold on the Ukraine funds amid concerns that the aid would not be released before the end of the fiscal year, after which the appropriation would expire.

The new evidence, Schumer said, raises questions that he said can only be answered by four current and former Trump administration officials — Duffey, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, former national security adviser John Bolton and top national security aide Robert Blair. Schumer called on all four to testify under oath about the allegations in a Senate trial.

"Importantly, that Mr. Duffey said there was 'clear direction from POTUS to continue to hold' only further implicates President Trump and underscores the need for the Senate to subpoena the witnesses and documents we’ve requested at the onset of a trial," Schumer continued. "The American people deserve a fair trial that gets to the truth, not a rigged process that enables a cover-up."

An OMB spokesperson said in a statement that, "There was agreement every step of the way between DOD and OMB lawyers, who were responsible for working out the details of the hold, in line with the President’s priorities."

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said that the emails "undermine any claim that the hold on military aid was ordered by the President for some unknown but legitimate reason."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blasted the White House for not releasing the emails during the impeachment inquiry.

Schumer has been calling on Republicans to call for the testimony in a Senate trial of Mulvaney, Bolton, Blair and Duffey.

The emails that were originally released by the Center for Public Integrity in December showed that Duffey was the official who told the Pentagon that the president wanted the aid frozen — a request that came just hours after Trump's July phone call with the Ukrainian president that has served as the backbone of the impeachment proceedings against him.

Democrats and Republicans remain deadlocked over the fate of the impeachment case. The House voted last month to impeach Trump but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has not yet sent over the two articles of impeachment to the Senate because she said after they were adopted that she wants to ensure that a fair trial is held in the Senate.

Congress returns to Washington next week when negotiations are expected to resume over a possible trial.

Frank Thorp V and Hallie Jackson contributed.