Published: Thu, January 16, 2020
Electronics | By Kelly Massey

GAO says Trump administration broke law by withholding Ukraine aid

GAO says Trump administration broke law by withholding Ukraine aid

The Government Accountability Office issued a legal opinion on Thursday saying that President Trump's administration broke the law by withholding defense aid to Ukraine - the issue at the heart of the president's impeachment trial.

The Government Accountability Office said the decision amounted to an "impoundment" of the funds because of a policy dispute, which is not an acceptable reason under the law for the White House to hold up money after Congress votes for it and the president signs it into law.

"OMB violated the [1974 budget law] when it withheld DOD's USAI funds from obligation for policy reasons", the opinion said, referring to the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. The withholding was not a programmatic delay. "Therefore, we conclude that the OMB violated the ICA [Impoundment Control Act]".

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House, in Washington, on January 15, 2020.

The aid in question was held up last summer on orders from Trump but was released in September after Congress pushed for its release and a whistleblower's complaint about Trump's July call with the Ukrainian leader became public. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, said in a statement. He charged that Trump "ordered this illegal act" and said the findings "reinforce the need for the Senate to obtain all relevant documents and hear from key fact witnesses in order to have a fair trial".

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OMB spokeswoman Rachel Semmel said the budget office disagrees with the GAO's decision.

In practical terms, the GAO may have broad investigatory powers, but it lacks enforcement authority: in a case like this one, it could go to court to force the White House to release the withheld funds. But the GAO rejected that argument.

The GAO said the assertions "have no basis in law" because programmatic delays only occur when an agency "is taking necessary steps to implement a program, but because of factors external to the program, funds temporarily go unobligated".

Trump has always maintained he's done nothing illegal.

This is a breaking news story.

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