Trump administration broke law in withholding Ukraine aid

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney answers questions during a briefing at the White House October 17, 2019 in Washington, DC.Win McNamee | Getty Images News | Getty ImagesThe Trump administration broke the law by witholding congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine last summer “for a policy reason,” a top government watchdog said in a scathing report Thursday.The Government Accountability Office’s report came a day after the House of Representatives sent articles of impeachment of President Donald Trump  to the Senate for conduct related to his withhold that aid to Ukraine.Trump refused to release the fund to Ukraine at the same time he was pressuring that country’s new president to announce investigations by that country of former Vice President Joe Biden, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination this year, and of Biden’s son Hunter, who had served on the board of a Ukraine gas company.The funds were only released after the block on the aid became publicly known, sparking the congressional probe that led to the Republican president’s impeachment by the Democratic-controlled House last month.The GAO report said that the Office of Management and Budget’s withholding of about $214 million in funds appropriated by Congress to the Defense Department for security assistance to Ukraine was done “for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act.””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 said in its report, which noted that the Constitution “specifically vests Congress with the power of the purse.””The withholding was not a programmatic delay. Therefore, we conclude that OMB violated the ICA.”TweetThe report said that Trump, like all other presidents, “is not vested with the power to ignore or amend any such duly enacted law.””Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law.”House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rep. Nita Lowey, D-New York, said in a statement, “The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has confirmed what Congressional Democrats have understood all along: President Trump abused his power and broke the law by withholding security assistance to Ukraine.””Congress makes funding decisions, and the Trump Administration’s illegal impoundment of these vital national security funds was a brazen assault on the checks and balances inherent to our democracy,” Lowey said. “Given that this illegal conduct threatened our security and undermined our elections, I feel even more strongly that the House has chosen the right course by impeaching President Trump. No one is above the law.Thomas Armstrong, general counsel for the GAO, in a prepared statement said, “Today, GAO issued a legal decision concluding that the Office of Management and Budget violated the law when it withheld approximately $214 million appropriated to DOD for security assistance to Ukraine.””The President has narrow, limited authority to withhold appropriations under the Impoundment Control Act of 1974,” Armstrong said. “OMB told GAO that it withheld the funds to ensure that they were not spent ‘in a manner that could conflict with the President’s foreign policy.’ The law does not permit OMB to withhold funds for policy reasons.”

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