Government watchdog: Trump administration's Ukraine scandal broke the law

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The Government Accountability Office says it was illegal for the administration to withhold military aid to Ukraine.

A congressional watchdog on Thursday concluded that the Trump administration broke the law when it withheld congressionally appropriated military aid to Ukraine last year.

The report from the Government Accountability Office said that the hold on military aid violated the Impoundment Control Act (ICA). That law says a president must request a rescission from Congress before withholding or canceling previously appropriated funds, and only for a limited number of reasons, including for fiscal contingencies or "the termination of programs for which Congress has provided budget authority," according to the GAO.

"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 in its report. "[Office of Management and Budget] withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted."

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The GAO report comes days before the impeachment trial against Donald Trump is set to begin in the Senate and provides the House impeachment managers with more evidence that Trump abused the powers of the presidency by withholding the military aid in order to force Ukraine to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

The House impeached Trump on one count of abuse of power of the presidency in relation to those actions.

Trump, for his part, claims that he withheld the military aid because he was concerned about corruption in Ukraine and whether the funds would be used appropriately.

However, that excuse was knocked down by government officials in the impeachment inquiry, who testified under oath that there was no concern about the funds being used inappropriately. There were also reports that there were concerns within the government that blocking the aid was against the law.

The GAO report also notes this, saying the Defense Department had already certified Ukraine was in compliance with anti-corruption efforts when Trump decided to withhold the aid.

Ultimately, the GAO concluded that Trump still could not unilaterally withhold military aid, no matter his motivation.

"An appropriations act is a law like any other; therefore, unless Congress has enacted a law providing otherwise, the President must take care to ensure that appropriations are prudently obligated during their period of availability," the GAO wrote in the report, adding, "The Constitution grants the President no unilateral authority to withhold funds from obligation."

Trump was also impeached last month on one count of obstructing Congress for blocking administration officials from testifying, as well as refusing to turn over subpoenaed documents related to the inquiry of the military aid hold.

The GAO similarly said in its report that the Trump administration tried to hamper its investigation into whether the military aid hold violated the law.

"We consider a reluctance to provide a fulsome response to have constitutional significance," The GAO wrote. "GAO's role under the ICA — to provide information and legal analysis to Congress as it performs oversight of executive activity — is essential to ensuring respect for and allegiance to Congress' constitutional power of the purse. All federal officials and employees take an oath to uphold and protect the Constitution and its core tenets, including the congressional power of the purse."

Trump on Thursday morning tweeted a quote from Fox News host Laura Ingraham — just as the GAO report outlining his administration's violation of the ICA was released to the public  — insisting the impeachment proceedings against him were a sham because he had not committed a crime.

"There is no crime here. I just think this whole thing should be rejected out of hand. I wouldn’t waste a minute of taxpayer dollars or time on this. Entertaining this Impeachment is a joke," Trump quoted Ingraham as saying.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.