Washington: The White House stalled a proposal to restore trade privileges to Ukraine in August, at the time that President Donald Trump was pressing Kiev to investigate his political rival, the Washington Post reported Thursday.
The newspaper reported that the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer had proposed that month to restore benefits that Ukraine had enjoyed under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) system.
But Lighthizer was told by then-White House national security advisor John Bolton that Trump would likely oppose the idea and to drop it.
At the time, according to a whistleblower and congressional testimony from several officials, Trump was withholding nearly $400 million (Dh1.5 billion) in military aid to Ukraine.
He was allegedly using the hold-up to pressure President Volodymyr Zelensky to open investigations into Democrat Joe Biden and into a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine helped the Democrats against him in the 2016 campaign.
The allegation that Trump abused used his powers to get Zelensky to help him politically is at the core of an impeachment inquiry in Congress.
The Post said the communications between Bolton and Lighthizer are “the first indication that the administration’s suspension of assistance to Ukraine extended beyond the congressionally authorized military aid and security assistance to other government programs.”
But it said it was not clear whether Trump became involved in the GSP issue.
“Bolton intervened with Lighthizer to block it,” an unnamed administration official told the Post.
Trump fired Bolton in early September.
In the past two weeks two senior diplomats have told Congress Bolton was strongly opposed to Trump’s pressuring of Zelensky, comparing it to a “drug deal.”
Another administration official told the Post that the GSP decision was delayed as part of a routine review.