By that point, officials in Ukraine were getting word that something was up. At the same time, the effort to win a commitment from the Ukrainians for the investigations sought by Mr. Trump was intensifying, with Mr. Giuliani and a Zelensky aide, Andriy Yermak, meeting in Madrid on Aug. 2 and the diplomats Mr. Sondland and Mr. Volker also working the issue.
And inside the intelligence community, a C.I.A. officer was hearing talk about the two strands of pressure on Ukraine, including the aid freeze. Seeing how they fit together, he was alarmed enough that by Aug. 12 he would take the extraordinary step of laying them out in detail in a confidential whistle-blower complaint.
A ‘POTUS-level Decision’
Keeping a hold on the assistance was now a top priority, so officials moved to tighten control over the money.
In a very unusual step, the White House removed Mr. Sandy’s authority to oversee the aid freeze. The job was handed in late July to Mr. Sandy’s boss, Mr. Duffey, the political appointee, the official ultimately responsible for apportionments but one who had little experience in the nuts and bolts of the budget office process.
As the debate over the aid continued, disagreements flared. Two budget office staff members left the agency after the summer. Mr. Sandy testified that their departures were related to the aid freeze, a statement disputed by budget office officials.
Pentagon officials, in the dark about the reason for the holdup, grew increasingly frustrated. Ms. McCusker, the powerful Pentagon budget official, notified the budget office that either $61 million of the money would have to be spent by Monday, Aug. 12 or it would be lost. The budget office saw her threat as a ploy to force release of the aid.
At the White House, which had been looped into the dispute by the budget office, there was a growing consensus that officials could find a legal rationale for continuing the hold, but with the Monday deadline looming, it was a “POTUS-level decision,” one official said.