With the impeachment of President Donald Trump moving to the Senate trial phase, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said Thursday the administration broke the law in withholding congressionally approved military aid meant for the Ukraine “for a policy reason.”
The report comes a day after the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives sent its articles of impeachment to the Senate, where they are fully expected to be dead on arrival with a strong Republican majority.
Trump reportedly pressured Ukraine and its new president to announce an investigation into former U.S. Vice President and current Democratic primary polling leader Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, over corruption.
The Trump administration held back a total of $400 million in aid. The $214 million the GAO, the country’s top government watchdog, says was illegally withheld was appropriated by Congress to the Department of Defense for security assistance against Russia, and it was withheld “for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act,” the report reads.
The GAO is still looking into whether or not the other $186 million withheld “was proper.”
“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 report reads. “(Office of Management and Budget) 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.”
After the aid blockade became publicly known, but before the deadline to be sent, the funds were released, leading to the House Democrats’ probe. This in turn led to Trump’s impeachment, the third time in U.S. history a president has been impeached. The Trump administration denies any wrongdoing.
Of course, no president has been found guilty in the Senate trial and removed from office. Though, Richard Nixon surely would have been removed from office if he had not resigned.
The report also raised further constitutional concerns regarding a lack of cooperation from the Trump administration’s “reluctance to provide a fulsome response,” which interfered with the watchdog’s oversight role.
“We consider a reluctance to provide a fulsome response to have constitutional significance,” the report’s conclusion reads. “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. We trust that State and OMB will provide the information needed.”
OMB spokesperson Rachel Semmel said it disagrees with the GAO’s opinion.
“We disagree with the GAO’s opinion,” she said. “OMB uses its apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent consistent with the President’s priorities and with the law.”
An anonymous senior administration official also told CNBC that “GAO’s findings are a pretty clear overreach as they attempt to insert themselves into the media’s controversy of the day.”
Click here to read the GAO report in full.
Editor’s note: The GAO report is of course just an opinion. Is this opinion more “Deep State” chicanery against President Trump, particularly in regard to the timing of the report’s release, or something more? For the sake of argument, let’s say Trump broke the law. Do you think it’s an offense that’s serious enough that he should be removed from office? Share your thoughts below.