SALT LAKE CITY — Members of a Senate panel, including Sen. Mitt Romney, wanted to know Wednesday why the White House only last week released military aid to Lebanon that had languished for months despite approval from Congress.
But the Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism didn’t get many answers from a State Department official who appeared at the hearing.
President Donald Trump withholding aid to Ukraine is at the center of the House impeachment inquiry, prompting some lawmakers to draw comparisons to the situations.
Joey Hood, principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said he couldn’t get into the State Department’s internal deliberations about delivering $105 million to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which is trying to counter Iranian influence in the country.
“Are you saying that the delay was due to bureaucratic processes as opposed to policymaking at the highest levels of our government?” Romney asked.
Hood said only that internal discussions precede decisions about delivering foreign aid.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., was more pointed in his questions, asking Hood if there was a decision in the White House to withhold the funds.
“I would refer you to the White House for what White House thinking is,” Hood said, adding he wasn’t aware of such a decision.
Hood also said he couldn’t talk about whether the White House, State Department or Defense Department dictated the timing of the release of the funds in response to another Kaine question.
“When we specify that the dollars should be spent in this way and then we have to find out in the newspaper that the administration is withholding the dollars against our mandate, you can understand the concern that we have,” Kaine said.
Lebanon is rife with social and political unrest as public anger has escalated over electricity and water shortages and a fuel price hike as well as the government’s failure to manage the country’s garbage and economic crises.
For the past two months, peaceful protesters of government inaction have been attacked by Hezbollah, a Shia organization founded in Lebanon and supported by Iran. The Lebanese Armed Forces has stepped in to protect the protesters from threats and violence.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said U.S. policy in Lebanon has long been aimed at reducing outside influences. But the U.S. withheld military aid at the moment it should have been supporting the Lebanese forces.
“When I was in Lebanon a week ago no American official could give me a reason as to why the aid was held up or what the LAF needed to do to get it unstuck,” he said.
Murphy said he hopes the administration knows that when it holds back foreign aid whether for policy reasons, which aren’t allowed, or bureaucratic reasons, it has an effect.
Hood said there were no policy conditions placed on the funding and that no purchases or deliveries of military materials were delayed.