Washington • Sen. Mitt Romney was among several colleagues on Wednesday to raise concerns about why the Trump administration temporarily withheld some $105 million in aid to Lebanon with questions swirling about whether the White House move was akin to previous efforts to condition military funding to Ukraine.
Romney, a Utah Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee overseeing parts of Asia and the Middle East, quizzed a top State Department official on why the administration delayed sending the aid to the Lebanese armed forces (LAF).
Joey Hood, principal deputy assistant secretary in the State’s Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said there was only bureaucratic red-tape and nothing nefarious behind the money being held back.
“It is true that bureaucratic processes often work more slowly than we would like them to,” Hood replied. “I am daily frustrated with that myself. What I can say is that no delivery of material, no assistance was delayed or prevented from going to the LAF because of these internal deliberations.”
The $105 million in question was released last week after being held up without explanation by the White House, Bloomberg News reported.
There was no indication the White House was leveraging the military aid, though Bloomberg News noted that some pro-Israel members of Congress had raised concerns about giving aid to the LAF because it had been “compromised by the militant group Hezbollah,” which has ties to Iran.
Wednesday’s hearing came at the same time the House Judiciary Committee began a new phase of the impeachment inquiry into Trump’s efforts to withhold military and State Department aid to Ukraine as the president was asking the country to investigate a political rival and probe whether Ukrainian officials tried to help Trump’s opponent in the 2016 election.
Trump supporters have maintained that the aid was appropriately held back to ensure Ukraine investigated corruption inside its country, though the Pentagon had certified Ukraine had met its obligations to receive the funds.
Democrats say Trump was using hundreds of millions of taxpayer money to help him in his 2020 reelection bid by trying to denigrate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic opponent.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., questioned Hood on why the White House didn't comply with the law and deliver the money to Lebanon.
“I get we're not asking about internal deliberations, but the funding was mandated by Congress,” Kaine told Hood. “So we're appropriators and we put it into an appropriations bill and the president signed it. And so I think we're entitled to know the reason why it was held up.”
“Sir, I would refer you to the White House for what White House thinking is,” Hood replied, noting, again, that there are internal discussions on releasing aid.
Kaine and other senators suggested they’d like a better explanation from the White House about why the money to Lebanon wasn’t provided as directed.
“We have to find out in the newspaper that the administration is withholding the dollars against our mandate,” Kaine said. “You can understand the concern that we have.”