Defense chief on Ukraine: ‘My aim is to keep the department apolitical’ | TheHill

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: House Dems subpoena White House for Ukraine documents | Pence pulled into inquiry | GOP senator says he confronted Trump over Ukraine aid | Iran hackers target 2020 campaign Overnight Defense: Pentagon didn’t listen in on Ukraine call | Questions linger over delayed aid | State formally approves M Ukraine arms sale Pentagon: Recent North Korean test was a short- to medium-range ballistic missile MORE said Saturday that his aim is “to keep the department apolitical” amid a swirling scandal surrounding the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine.

When asked if he knew anything about reports that President TrumpDonald John TrumpGordon Sondland expected to appear for House deposition Ivanka Trump on impeachment: ‘Everything’s a question of priorities’ Second intel official considering filing complaint over Trump: report MORE threatened to withhold nearly $400 million in military aid from Ukraine as he urged the country to probe former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenGordon Sondland expected to appear for House deposition Ivanka Trump on impeachment: ‘Everything’s a question of priorities’ Second intel official considering filing complaint over Trump: report MORE, Esper said the department’s focus is “what is the military value in terms of … assisting a country like Ukraine” and whether U.S. allies are assisting the country.

The increased scrutiny of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine comes as House Democrats have launched an impeachment inquiry into the president. Democrats argue there is ample evidence to remove Trump from office, while staunch GOP allies insist his record is clean.

“As I’ve said before, it’s a political matter,” Esper said. “I’m not going to add any fuel to the fire. … Congress is looking into this obviously, an inquiry’s underway and we’ll deal with this, and answer all these questions in due course. But right now I’m trying to keep [the department] out of this issue.”

Regarding U.S. aid to Ukraine, he added, “Most of that security assistance is — got out by the end of the year, and in no time … did I feel it had an impact on national security, U.S. national security.”

At the center of the Trump impeachment inquiry is a July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whom the U.S. president urged to investigate Biden and his son. While Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoGordon Sondland expected to appear for House deposition Democrats claim new momentum from intelligence watchdog testimony Overnight Defense: House Dems subpoena White House for Ukraine documents | Pence pulled into inquiry | GOP senator says he confronted Trump over Ukraine aid | Iran hackers target 2020 campaign MORE has confirmed he was on the call, no Defense Department officials listened in on the phone conversation.

Several top officials in the Trump administration, including Pompeo, Vice President Pence and Trump’s personal attorney Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiTrump holds call with House GOP amid impeachment inquiry Democrats claim new momentum from intelligence watchdog testimony Overnight Defense: House Dems subpoena White House for Ukraine documents | Pence pulled into inquiry | GOP senator says he confronted Trump over Ukraine aid | Iran hackers target 2020 campaign MORE, have been subpoenaed by House committees over documents related to Trump’s contacts with Ukraine.

Esper said last week that he would provide to lawmakers “whatever information we can provide with regard to this incident, with regard to this matter, just as we would with any other matter.”

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