The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that the Trump administration violated the law when it withheld US security aid to Ukraine last year that had been appropriated by Congress, a decision that’s at the heart of the House’s impeachment case against President Trump.
The GAO, a nonpartisan congressional watchdog, said in a decision issued Thursday that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) violated the Impoundment Control Act, a 1974 law that limits the White House from withholding funds that Congress has appropriated.
OMB told the GAO it “withheld the funds to ensure that they were not spent ‘in a manner that could conflict with the President’s foreign policy,'” said Thomas Armstrong, the GAO’s general counsel. But the GAO rejected that argument.
“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” the GAO wrote. “OMB withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act. The withholding was not a programmatic delay. Therefore, we conclude that OMB violated the ICA.”
The GAO’s opinion will add more fuel to the Democratic allegations that Trump’s conduct broke the law when his administration withheld $400 million in security aid to Ukraine while the President and his team pushed Ukraine to open an investigation into the President’s political rivals.
“This bombshell legal opinion from the independent Government Accountability Office demonstrates, without a doubt, that the Trump Administration illegally withheld security assistance from Ukraine. The publicly available evidence also shows that the President himself ordered this illegal act,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, said in a statement. “The GAO’s independent findings reinforce the need for the Senate to obtain all relevant documents and hear from key fact witnesses in order to have a fair trial.”
OMB spokeswoman Rachel Semmel said the budget office disagrees with the GAO’s decision.
“OMB uses its apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent consistent with the President’s priorities and with the law,” Semmel said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the GAO report “confirmed that the President’s actions at the center of our impeachment articles, withholding congressionally approved military aid from Ukraine, was illegal.”
“This reinforces again the need for documents and eyewitnesses in the Senate,” she said. “You see this more and more and more in all of this, this tangled web to deceive that the administration is engaged in.”