Defense Secretary Mark Esper was not on the July phone call made by President Donald Trump to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky at the heart of a House impeachment inquiry, a Pentagon official said Thursday.
"To my knowledge, no one from the Department of Defense was on that [July 25] call," Pentagon chief spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said at a briefing. "I've specifically asked [Esper] that question and he was not on that call."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has acknowledged listening in on the call and others, possibly including an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, also may have joined in, but Esper was not among them, Hoffman said. The inquiry stems from allegations that Trump attempted to pressure Zelensky into investigating Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, by threatening to cut off military aid, including Javelin anti-tank missiles.
"The secretary has an incredibly busy schedule and is working on a number of different issues at any one time. He doesn't spend most of his days sitting in on other people's phone calls," Hoffman said of Esper.
Hoffman added that the furor over the phone call has not affected Esper's ability to work with the White House and the State Department on national security issues.
Esper "has a solid working relationship with the president, with [Pompeo], with the national security adviser -- that's not a concern," Hoffman said.
The controversy over the phone call also has not affected the U.S. military-to-military relationship with Ukraine, Hoffman said. He said that the U.S. since 2014 has delivered a total of $1.6 billion in military aid to Ukraine to help the country "defend itself against aggressive Russian action in the region."
However, as a precaution, the Defense Department's general counsel has ordered a roundup of all pertinent DoD documents on Ukraine and military aid, although House investigators have yet to ask for them, Hoffman said.
"Out of an abundance of caution, they've taken the steps to have documents preserved," he said.
In a statement last week, Esper said the Defense Department was prepared to cooperate with Congress and all appropriate agencies in the impeachment inquiry.
He said DoD would hand over "whatever information we can provide with regard to this incident, with regard to this matter, just as we would with any other matter."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.