WASHINGTON — The White House on Thursday dropped its resistance to releasing a package of military assistance to Ukraine, amid a bipartisan outcry from lawmakers and an open investigation into whether President Trump and his allies were distorting the United States foreign aid program for their own political benefit.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said the administration told them on Wednesday night that it would release $250 million, which is intended partly to train and equip Ukrainian forces defending against Russian incursion.
The White House had previously requested a review of the spending, ostensibly to ensure that it was being used to further American foreign policy interests. But the delay prompted a swift backlash from Republicans and Democrats in Congress, where there has long been strong support from both parties for Ukraine’s efforts to stave off Russian aggression.
And some Democrats suggested that the delay was intended to pressure the government of the newly elected Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to start investigations of Mr. Trump’s political rivals, including the family of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. The inquiries have been sought by Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and other allies.
On Thursday, Mr. Graham sought to put a swift end to the questions.
“I think they’ve got the message,” he said. “If you’re listening in Ukraine on C-Span, you’re going to get the money.”
Mr. Durbin said the administration’s change of heart was in part motivated by its unwillingness to defend blocking the aid. He had planned to propose freezing some administrative funds from the Pentagon if future assistance to Ukraine was delayed.
“I think the administration was embarrassed when they saw that we were going to debate it here today,” Mr. Durbin said during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on legislation that would fund the Defense Department. “But do we really have to go through that kind of exercise?”
“I just want to make sure it is spent in a timely way,” he said, adding that with less than three weeks before the end of the fiscal year, it was possible that there would not be enough time to spend the $250 million.
A senior Trump administration official confirmed that the funding for the military assistance had been released, but declined to comment on the rationale for the decision or the delay.
“The administration supports Ukraine’s efforts of reform and self-defense,” the official said, “and these funds will advance Ukrainian efforts toward those ends.”
The delay of the aid package has put Mr. Zelensky and his new government in a difficult spot. The United States is a critical ally in Ukraine’s struggle to stop further encroachment by Russia, but Washington has long prodded Kiev to fight corruption plaguing its government. There is broad optimism in American foreign policy circles that Mr. Zelensky, a former comedian and political neophyte, might be able to make progress on both fronts, provided he maintains support from the United States and the West.
“There is near panic in Ukraine today about America’s commitment to the U.S.-Ukrainian relationship,” said Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, citing a recent trip to Ukraine where he met with Mr. Zelensky. “They are desperate for a bipartisan signal from the United States that we remain with them, and this is the opportunity to do it.”
With some Republicans balking at the prospect of withholding money from other aspects of the Defense Department as penalty, Mr. Durbin ultimately agreed to withdraw his proposal and work with his colleagues to find a compromise.
“We will burn fresh hell if we have to,” said Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, “but we will come up with something.”
Mr. Trump has privately expressed skepticism, complaining in May that Ukrainian officials under the previous government tried to help Hillary Clinton win the presidency in 2016, and asserting that all Ukrainian politicians are “corrupt.”
“That’s his own opinion, and it’s an absolutely correct one, unless maybe it’s overstated a little bit,” Mr. Giuliani said on Thursday. Ukraine, he said, was “probably one of the more corrupt countries in the world.”
He said he had nothing to do with the decisions to delay or release the assistance, and had not discussed the matter with Mr. Zelensky’s representatives.
Nonetheless, Mr. Giuliani, who has been communicating with a top aide to Mr. Zelensky about the matters Mr. Trump’s allies want investigated, said he expected Mr. Zelensky’s prosecutors would begin assessing the matters in the next couple of weeks.
An adviser to Mr. Zelensky asserted that the delay in the assistance was unrelated to the potential investigations.
“I’m very certain that they weren’t connected,” said the adviser, Igor Novikov, who said he was “incredibly grateful” for the support from Congress and the Trump administration. “It is definitely good news for Ukraine because we consider the United States one of our top partners, and a real and true and tested friend.”
Vice President Mike Pence denied last week that the delay in releasing the military assistance was related to Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to persuade the Ukrainians to investigate matters related to Mr. Biden, who is the early front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
But, after a meeting with Mr. Zelensky in Warsaw, Mr. Pence told reporters that he and Mr. Trump “have great concerns about issues of corruption,” linking those concerns to the military assistance. The president “wants to be assured that those resources are truly making their way to the kind of investments that will contribute to security and stability in Ukraine,” Mr. Pence said.
The matter most likely will not be settled with the release of the military assistance.
On Monday, three House committees announced a wide-ranging investigation into whether Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani were misappropriating United States government foreign policy tools — including withholding the military assistance — to try to help the president politically.
And House Democrats have also signaled that they plan to counter the administration’s reluctance to spend the money in upcoming funding measures. In an early draft of the short-term spending bill needed to delay a government shutdown on Oct. 1, obtained by The New York Times, lawmakers included a provision that would extend the money’s availability for another fiscal year and prevent the administration from blocking it up again.
The legislation is expected to be finalized in the coming days before an expected vote next week in the House. During the hearing, the committee’s Republican majority also blocked language that would restrict the administration’s ability to use military money for the construction of a wall at the southwestern border.