Gov’t Watchdog Office: OMB Broke Law With Trump-Ordered Ukraine Aid Freeze

US President Donald Trump makes a statement on Iran at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach Florida, on January 3, 2020. - President Donald Trump said on January 3, 2020 that America does not seek war or regime change... US President Donald Trump makes a statement on Iran at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach Florida, on January 3, 2020. - President Donald Trump said on January 3, 2020 that America does not seek war or regime change with Iran, less than a day after the US launched an airstrike in Baghdad that killed Irans top general, Qasem Soleimani. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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January 16, 2020 10:07 a.m.
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The U.S. Government Accountability Office, a government watchdog agency that advises Congress, concluded Thursday that the hold President Trump ordered his Office of Management and Budget to place on Ukraine military assistance violated the law.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” a GAO opinion said. “OMB 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.”

The opinion outlined the reasons holds can be legally placed on congressionally authorized funding, and said the rational given for freezing the Ukraine aid did not fit within those reasons.

“The burden to justify a withholding of budget authority rests with the executive branch. Here, OMB has failed to meet this burden. We conclude that OMB violated the ICA when it withheld USAI funds for a policy reason,” the GAO said.

The assessment was requested by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and the opinion gets at a key aspect of the President Trump’s Ukraine pressure campaign, which is the focus of an impeachment case the Senate will hear against the President beginning next week. According to witnesses and documents produced in the House impeachment inquiry, Trump ordered the hold on the military aid while his allies in and outside of the administration were demanding that Ukraine announce investigations into Trump’s political rivals. The administration has withheld access to key witnesses and documents from the OMB and elsewhere in the administration.

Thursday’s GAO opinion focused on the legal implications of the hold OMB placed on the $214 million in Ukraine military assistance running through the Department of Defense. It said the OMB and State Department had failed to provide the information necessary for it to make a similar determination about the aid that was appropriated through the State Department, which was also frozen by the administration. Despite the stonewalling, the GAO said it would “continue to pursue this matter and will provide our decision to the Congress after we have received the necessary information.”

“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,” the opinion said.

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