Exclusive: Ernst claims Trump privately backs military aid to Ukraine

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst asserted on June 14 that former President Donald Trump privately supports continuing U.S. military assistance to Ukraine. Ernst spoke to Bleeding Heartland following a town hall meeting in Winterset.

Asked about the many Republicans who do not support further military aid to Ukraine, a group that appears to include Trump, Ernst said, “Actually, no, he’s been pretty silent on that issue, and just in private conversations, he understands it’s the right thing to do.”

It’s not clear when such conversations might have occurred. Iowa’s junior senator last saw Trump on June 13, when he had lunch with Senate Republicans at the U.S. Capitol. News accounts of that meeting suggest the focus was on presenting a unified GOP front in the upcoming election campaigns, though Trump and the senators also discussed a range of policies.

U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida posted on June 13 that during a closed-door meeting with House Republicans, Trump said of Ukraine, “They’re never going to be there for us.” Gaetz also wrote that Trump “says we should pay OUR TROOPS more instead of sending $60b to Ukraine.”

The latest foreign aid package approved by Congress included $61 billion for Ukraine. Observers widely perceived Trump to be using his influence with House Republicans to keep that aid stalled for months, before Speaker Mike Johnson put it to a floor vote in April. While Iowa’s Congressional delegation all supported the proposal, more House Republicans voted against the latest Ukraine funding than for it. Members most committed to cutting off aid to Ukraine include many Trump loyalists, like Gaetz.

Ernst backs military—not humanitarian—aid

Ernst is a member of the Senate’s Ukraine Caucus and supported sending “lethal aid” to that country years before Russia launched a full-scale invasion in February 2022. She first visited Ukraine as a college student before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Most recently, she met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other senior officials on a bipartisan Congressional delegation to Ukraine in early April. (Oddly, Ernst did not announce that trip in any news release or on her social media feeds.)

Asked in Winterset whether she is confident the U.S. will not abandon Ukraine to Russia if Republicans gain control of the Senate, she replied, “I am, actually. Yes, I am confident.”

Does Ernst still favor further military aid to Ukraine? “Yes, U.S. military aid. We’ll have to have a different conversation about humanitarian aid. Because what we want to see is our European partners do more on the humanitarian aid front.”

Notably, humanitarian aid flows primarily to Ukraine. In contrast, most military aid funds are spent in the U.S. “to build new weapons or to replace weapons sent to Kyiv from U.S. stockpiles.”

Ernst wrote last month to the inspector general of the U.S. Agency for International Development, raising questions about USAID’s assistance to small and medium-sized enterprises in Ukraine. She called for the U.S. to “provide weapons, not welfare,” and expressed concern that “USAID views itself as a slush fund for Ukrainian businesses unrelated to the war effort.”

Ernst claims Biden “hampering” Ukraine’s war effort

After calling on European countries to provide more humanitarian aid, Ernst said in Winterset, “We can produce the munitions, and the military platforms. But, President Biden needs to allow those munitions to strike inside of Russia. Otherwise Ukraine is not going to win this war. He is hampering that country from actually defeating Russia. So President Biden needs to step up and do the right thing.”

“And President Trump would allow that?” Bleeding Heartland asked as staff began to lead the senator out of the building.

“Yeah, I think so,” Ernst replied while walking away.

One day before Ernst accused Biden of undermining Ukraine’s ability to win the war, the U.S. and Ukrainian presidents signed a 10-year security agreement in Italy. While that agreement does not bind future Congresses to approve military aid, it reflects Biden’s aspiration “to strengthen Ukraine’s credible defense and deterrence capabilities for the long term,” with a view toward eventual NATO membership.

In addition, Biden has recently allowed Ukraine to strike Russian territory with U.S. weaponry, Politico reported last month. That policy change is only “for counter-fire purposes in Kharkiv,” a response to Russia’s “stunning incursion” near Ukraine’s second-largest city in May.

The idea that Trump would permit Ukraine to conduct more attacks on Russian territory seems far-fetched. Over the past year, the former president has spoken publicly about getting the war “settled,” rather than promising to help Ukraine repel a foreign invasion.

He has also sounded skeptical about sending more weapons to Ukraine, telling CNN’s Kaitlan Collins at a May 2023 town hall in New Hampshire, “We’re giving away so much equipment, we don’t have ammunition for ourselves right now.”

The Washington Post reported in April of this year that Trump “has privately said he could end Russia’s war in Ukraine by pressuring Ukraine to give up some territory,” namely Crimea and the Donbas border region. That idea is a non-starter for Zelenskyy.

Watch Senator Ernst’s comments about Ukraine in Winterset on June 14, 2024:

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin

  • Not surprised

    Trump probably sincerely believes he can end the war just by talking with Putin and Zelensky. So the issue of supplying weapons is irrelevant to him.

  • interesting

    Not sure how DJT followers would think about hearing that. I see new Iowa Poll out today has Trump up 18% in Iowa(50% to 32% to 15%(Independents). Biden lost Iowa by 8% in 2020 and is headed for a double digit loss which will undoubtedly hurt congressional candidates. Kennedy is a factor in Iowa.