GOP-led hearing on aid to Ukraine finds no evidence, so far, of misuse

Chairman Michael McCaul said good oversight supports efficiency.

March 29, 2023, 8:43 PM

During a Wednesday hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on aid to Ukraine, lawmakers spent hours questioning the top watchdogs overseeing the three government agencies most directly involved in distributing billions of dollars in American support to the war-torn country, repeatedly arriving at the same answer:

So far, there is no evidence that support has been misused.

Although conservatives have criticized the Biden administration for what they called a lack of oversight over the funds -- with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy pledging before the midterms that there should no longer be a "blank check" -- most Republicans on the panel sought to balance support for Ukraine with a commitment to surveillance.

"To be clear, I do not conduct this oversight to undermine or question the importance of support for Ukraine, but rather -- to the contrary -- oversight should incentivize the administration and Ukraine to use funds from Congress with the highest degree of efficiency and effectiveness," said Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas.

But New York Rep. Gregory Meeks, the committee's top Democrat, reminded the chamber of comments from lawmakers he called "MAGA Republicans" who assert that Kyiv has been given too much leeway, saying their comments play right into Russian President Vladimir Putin's hands.

Others -- like Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif. -- went further, questioning if even holding the hearing would provide fodder for Russian disinformation campaigns.

"I think we should talk about more important issues, like how do we make sure other countries don't give additional assistance to Russia? How do we make sure Ukraine has the long-range weapons they need to win this war?" Lieu said.

PHOTO: A civilian truck driver secures an M113 Armored Personnel Carrier to a flatbed trailer at Stones Ranch Military Reservation, East Lyme, Conn., April 27, 2022.
A civilian truck driver secures an M113 Armored Personnel Carrier to a flatbed trailer at Stones Ranch Military Reservation, East Lyme, Conn., April 27, 2022. This M113 is one of 200 armored personnel carriers, or APCs, being supplied by the Department of Defense to Ukraine as part of the $800 million U.S. Security Assistance for Ukraine aid package signed by President Joe Biden.
U.S. Army

During their testimonies, the acting inspectors general covering the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development as well as the inspector general overseeing the Department of Defense each explained how the sought to create a full account of how aid to Ukraine was used and install necessary controls against corruption.

But the witnesses also acknowledged the unique challenge posed by the conflict.

"We're doing oversight at the speed of war," said Robert Storch, who monitors the Department of Defense.

Some of the hearing's most contentious moments were tied to issues that hit closer to home, with Republicans like Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania pushing the witnesses on why the Biden administration was indirectly footing the bill for some Ukrainians' pensions rather than shoring up domestic entitlements or securing the U.S. border with Mexico.

"Can you give us assurance that none of that money that's being sent to arguably one of the most, if not the most, corrupt country on the planet is being misused, misspent, lost?" Perry pressed. "What assurance can you give the American people?”

"What I've testified to, congressman, is that based on our completed work, we have not substantiated any instances of diversion of U.S. security," Storch answered.

In this Feb. 21, 2023, file photo, U.S. Congressmen lead by Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Michael McCaul attend a meeting with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Ukrainian Presidential Press Service via Reuters, FILE

Still, the witnesses acknowledged that their work wasn't finished and that those findings could change as time marches on.

Republicans made multiple references to Afghanistan, with at least one lawmaker in the party suggesting that an office be created specifically to monitor aid to Ukraine, just as Congress did for the reconstruction of Afghanistan in 2008.

While the witnesses didn't weigh in on that prospect, they said their own oversight efforts could be boosted with additional financing from Congress.

"Our folks are, frankly, burning the candle at both ends to meet the extensive mandate that we have and it's because they are deeply, personally committed to the mission that they do that," said the deputy inspector general for the State Department, Diana Shaw, who also advocated for her office to have a larger footprint operating out of the American embassy in Ukraine.

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