The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report that says the Office of Management and Budget violated the Impoundment Control Act in the summer of 2019 when it helped the Trump Administration illegally withhold military aid from Ukraine that had been authorized by Congress.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), a nonpartisan agency that works for Congress, found that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) violated federal law under the direction of President Donald Trump in 2019, according to a congressional watchdog report released today.
The irony of this report being released by the GAO on the same day the Chief Justice of the United States and members of the U.S. Senate were sworn in for only the third impeachment trial of an American President shouldn’t be lost on anyone.
The abuse of power and failure to comply with Congressional subpoenas involve President Trump withholding these very same funds from Ukraine. Both of the articles of impeachment delivered to the U.S. Senate late yesterday include both abuses of power and obstruction of Congress. These articles relate to Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine to publicly commit to investigating former Vice President Joe Biden, a front-runner in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race, by withholding defense funds authorized by Congress.
Republican partisans that populate conservative media and a great number of former and current GOP lawmakers have for months have argued that by withholding the authorized defense funds did not violate U.S. federal law. Now we have a non-partisan watchdog that works for the Office of Management and Budget saying the President directed the OMB to violate federal law.
The GAO report says…
“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law…OMB withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act (ICA). The withholding was not a programmatic delay. Therefore, we conclude that OMB violated the ICA.”
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted to send articles of impeachment against Trump to the Senate. Lawmakers will determine in an upcoming trial whether the president should be removed from office.
Several current and former State Department officials testified during a month’s long impeachment inquiry in the House last year that the Trump administration withheld over $391 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine as part of that pressure campaign. A few of the witnesses testified that they were concerned that Trump and his administration’s officials were breaking federal law.
Trump, on the other hand, along with other members of the administration who refused to show up and testify and/or deliver documents also subpoenaed have repeatedly repeated the mantra that the President did nothing wrong in asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden.
The Office of Management and Budget a federal bureau within the executive office that oversees the president’s budget and the performance of federal agencies rejected GAO’s findings Thursday. Claiming its handling of the aid was consistent with the law. Rachel Semmel OMB spokeswoman denied any violation of law in a statement…
“We disagree with GAO’s opinion;” OMB uses its apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent consistent with the President’s priorities and with the law.”
But Democrats quickly seized on the report’s conclusions.
In a news conference today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said GAO’s findings reinforce the need for the Senate to call witnesses and obtain relevant documents during the impeachment trial.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a member of the Senate committees on appropriations and budget, emphasized the troubling nature of GAO’s findings by saying…
“The bombshell legal opinion from the independent [GAO] demonstrates, without a doubt, that the Trump Administration illegally withheld assistance from Ukraine…The public evidence shows that the president himself ordered this illegal act.”
Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the ranking Republican member of the House judiciary committee, when asked about the report, expressed skepticism about the report and its conclusions even though he hadn’t read it.
“How can money that does not need to be appropriated until September 30 — and it was appropriated before September 30 — how are they saying that’s illegal?”
The GAO report found that the OMB at the direction of the President of the United States had repeatedly delayed the release of funds, stating on apportionment schedules that withholding the aid was necessary…
“…to determine the best use of such funds.”
However, it was only after a whistleblower complaint about Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky and the House’s decision to investigate the president’s Ukraine dealings did the OMB suddenly released the aid to Ukraine on Sept. 11.
The OMB told GAO when questioned about the withholding the money was necessary to ensure it was not spent…
“…in a manner that could conflict with the President’s foreign policy.”
This renders Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) argument as absurd because…
“The ICA does not permit deferrals for policy reasons,” the GAO report notes. “OMB’s justification for the withholding falls squarely within the scope of an impermissible policy deferral. Thus, the deferral of USAI funds was improper under the ICA.”
Even a temporary delay of the distribution of these defense funds amounts to a violation of the Impoundment Control Act (ICA) and as such amounts to a felony.
Bottom line: Those that insist the two Articles of Impeachment don’t involve any violation of the law just lost that argument. Further, should a new President and Attorney be sworn into office next January, a great number of people involved in President Trump’s scheme to leverage these defense funds to force the Ukrainian government to open a criminal investigation into former Vice President Biden and his son, may find themselves indicted in 2021.