The nation's top watchdog has concluded that the White House violated federal law when it withheld nearly $400 million in congressionally authorized US aid last year.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Trump administration violated the Impoundment Control Act (ICA), which "does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law," according to a Thursday report.
Of note, the GAO has reached similar conclusions against both Bush administrations and the Clinton administration. In December of 2018, the agency concluded that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) withheld $95 million from the Coast Guard - funds which were eventually released.
Congressional Democrats have accused Trump of using the withheld aid in a quid-pro-quo in exchange for investigations into Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as well as matters related to the 2016 US election. While House investigators were unable to prove that the funds were used as leverage - including whether Trump directly gave an order to do so, Trump was impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on December 18.
The White House claims its Office of Management and Budget (OMB) paused the funds over corruption concerns. That said, emails released in late December reveal that a senior OMB official directed the Department of Defense to pause the funds less than two hours after a July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine's new President, Volodomyr Zelensky.
The GAO, however, concluded that "OMB withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act."
The report brings new scrutiny to a chain of events at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget last year. When top White House officials gave directives to the Pentagon to withhold aid for Ukraine, some OMB officials objected, warning the halt could be improper. At least two officials resigned, in part over concerns about the Ukraine money. -Washington Post
Trump and the White House have vehemently denied wrongdoing.
Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) who requested the GAO report, tweeted on Thursday: "This bombshell legal opinion from the independent @USGAO demonstrates, without a doubt, that the Trump Administration illegally withheld assistance from Ukraine and the public evidence shows that the president himself ordered this illegal act."
This bombshell legal opinion from the independent @USGAO demonstrates, without a doubt, that the Trump Administration illegally withheld assistance from Ukraine and the public evidence shows that the president himself ordered this illegal act. pic.twitter.com/bkwyQ4Vk3K— Senator Chris Van Hollen (@ChrisVanHollen) January 16, 2020