The Trump administration committed an illegal act by refusing to send military aid to Ukraine that had already been approved by Congress, says the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a new report published on Thursday morning and posted online by The Washington Post.
The delay in releasing the aid is a key element of the impeachment case against Donald Trump. According to evidence gathered in the House impeachment inquiry, Trump ordered the delay as a way of leveraging the Ukrainian government into announcing an investigation into former United States Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s potential opponent in the 2020 presidential election.
“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 authored by GAO General Counsel Thomas H. Armstrong states. The GAO found that the administration had no basis or authority to hold back the military aid funds once Congress had approved them and the funding bill was signed by the president — in this case, Trump himself.
The GAO also reported that the administration failed to hand over the information required to allow a full investigation of the aid delay. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the State Department’s refusal to turn over information has “constitutional significance,” the report said.
By refusing to hand over requested documents and other information, the administration impeded the GAO’s ability to ensure “respect for and allegiance to Congress’ constitutional power of the purse,” the report continued.
The GAO carries out investigations when asked to do so by members of Congress. In December, shortly after the House voted to impeach Trump, Maryland Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen filed a request with the GAO to investigate whether holding back the Ukraine aid did, in fact, violate the 1974 Impoundment Control Act.
The law was designed to prevent presidents from “impounding” — or holding back — funds that have been approved by Congress.
“This bombshell legal opinion from the independent Government Accountability Office demonstrates, without a doubt, that the Trump administration illegally withheld security assistance from Ukraine,” Van Hollen said Thursday, after the GAO issued its report, as quoted by The Washington Post.
While the GAO was tasked with determining only if the OMB violated the law, evidence continues to surface that Trump personally ordered the delay in funds. Recent documents obtained by The Center For Public Integrity revealed that officials at the OMB believed the order to delay the finds came straight from Trump. In fact, an OMB official called the Pentagon to order the aid withheld just 91 minutes after Trump got off the phone with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump tried to persuade the Ukrainian leader to investigate Biden.