Michael Duffey, OMB's deputy director of national security programs and a Trump political nominee, signed at least some of the documents that delayed support for Ukraine, two sources told CNN. Normally, a career budget official signs such documents. Sources told CNN that it is very uncommon for a political appointee to participate in printing such a freeze.
In this case, career budget officials raised concerns about signing the documents because they believed such a move may have passed laws requiring OMB to spend money because it was appropriated by Congress, according to a congressional aide.
Investigators from congressional impeachment believe there may be a paper trail on OMB highlighting the decision to block support for Ukraine this summer when Trump and his allies pushed the new government. The decision-making behind the administration's support efforts has been hidden from both Republican and Democratic legislators.
"The idea that administrative officials should not be involved in budget implementation, including the allocation authority, after decades of precedent, is absolutely ridiculous," said Rachel Semmel, OMB spokeswoman. "It is absurd to suggest that the president and his administrative officials should not play a leadership role to ensure that taxpayer dollars are well spent."
Another source familiar with the situation said that there was a legitimate reason for Duffey to personally log out at the freezer. Relatively new to OMB, Duffey wanted a better understanding of how the allocation process worked, a source said. The source said Duffey signed the paperwork to stop the support based on his belief that the White House would like to review it because the president does not like spending on foreign aid in general.
"This is a very unusual set of circumstances that would have raised serious red flags for career officials at the Department of Defense, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the OMB," said Sam Berger, a vice chair at the Left Progress for American Progress and a former senior adviser and policy adviser at OMB.
Congressional investigators who want to follow the money ̵
OMB's acting director Russell Vought made clear on Wednesday that he is prepared to block requests for information from House Democrats, in line with the White House's position.
"We will not participate in a shaming process designed to revive the latest election," Vought said on Fox News.
The documents Duffey signed – known as distributions – are part of the normal protocol at the OMB and would reveal when military aid to Ukraine – partly intended to help the country to counter Russian aggression – was stopped and what explanation was offered.
The distribution process is not designed as a tool for implementing political priorities or for promoting political interests. If OMB were instructed to freeze aid to Ukraine, OMB employees may have been worried that they were running the law by not spending the money as appropriated.
There were other signs that the OMB process in Ukraine was not playing in the usual way.
First, the freeze had been ordered directly by Trump in June, according to an administrative official. After receiving the directive, OMB sat in the funds for months. And it provided few, if any, updates to legislators, the Department of State and the Pentagon, causing widespread confusion as to why the money had not been used.
In a mid-September staff survey, officials at the Foreign Ministry confirmed that they had no objection to Ukraine's funding going forward. They pointed to Mick Mulvaney, Trump's chief of staff and the OMB director, as the person who led the State Department not to impose the funds.
Confusion between the departments increases the likelihood that there is a trace of communication showing officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Defense engaging OMB officials with questions or concerns about the holding of funds.
"We should assume that there are concurrent documents to reflect the views of the agency," Berger said.
The circumstances of the Ukraine financing were also bizarre because the Trump administration provided so many different reasons for explaining the delay.
Officials have cited Trump's ideological objection to foreign aid, which was irrelevant when Congress appropriated the funds and since the Trump administration's follow-up attempt to try to cut billions in foreign aid to a number of countries.
The administration has pointed to Trump's desire to have US allies contribute more to Ukraine, but funds remained frozen even after Trump returned from G-7 in August, an excellent opportunity for diplomatic arm twisting.
Another rallying point for the administration has been that Trump wanted to crack down on corruption in Ukraine. But both the State Department and the Pentagon had signed up after sending the money to Ukraine after making an assessment that included a corruption check.
Finally, the administration has pointed to a mysterious interagency "policy overview" as one of the gaps. However, no official will explain what was actually examined or why such a review was necessary after both the State Department and the Pentagon had written off the funds.
The one statement the Trump administration rejects: That Trump may have stopped money for Ukraine to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate the Biden family. The President has strongly denied that Ukraine was offered any quid pro quo.
To the extent that there is a paper trail, legislators must fight to get it.
OMB has provided some documents in response to recent requests from the House Budget Committee and the House Appropriations Committee, probably because they were requested for legislative and regulatory purposes and not as part of the impeachment investigation, a congressional official said.
OMB faces another deadline Friday to submit another set of documents to these committees, but sources told CNN that they would not be surprised if the Budget Office now refuses to hand over any documents to any committee for any purpose.
Asked repeatedly on Wednesday if there is a paper trail on OMB, Vought avoids the questions and offered an answer without that instead.
"OMB continues to do the statutory job required to manage people's money in a way that is in line with the law and on behalf of the president's priorities," Vought told Fox, "there is no question about that."
CNN's Zachary Cohen, Manu Raju, Lauren Fox and Kylie Atwood contributed to this report.