Many Senate Republicans, including several members of the Appropriations Committee, seemed unconcerned by a government watchdog report released Thursday that found that the Trump administration’s broke the law by withholding aid to Ukraine.
While some GOP senators claimed they hadn’t seen the report, other Republicans admitted that it was unlikely to affect their thinking on impeachment, where the case against President Trump is set to be tried in the Senate starting Thursday. The legal opinion was written by the Government Accountability Office, established by Congress by the 1921 Budget and Accounting Act to investigate potential misuse of taxpayer money by the executive branch.
“The GAO report identifies the OMB and not the President and said it was for policy reasons, not for political reasons,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told reporters Thursday. “I don’t think that it changes anything.”
The legal assessment, which was done at the request of Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), found that OMB had violated the Impoundment Control Act in the hold it placed on $214 million in Ukraine military assistance Congress had appropriated through the Defense Department. It said the rationale the OMB provided for freezing the assistance did not meet the reasons the law allows for delaying funding authorized by Congress. The GAO also said that it had not received from the administration the necessary documents that would have allowed it to make a similar assessment of the millions more in State Department Ukraine aid that was also frozen by the OMB.
Already, documents and witness testimony in the impeachment inquiry make clear President Trump ordered the freeze. Senate Democrats are seeking that White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who also is the head of OMB, testify at the Senate trial, as well as other administration officials who were in charge of implementing the hold.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), the chair of the appropriations committee, claimed that GAO in its reports was often “trying to influence what we’re doing.”
“They shouldn’t be deciding who broke the law,” Shelby said.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), another Senate appropriator, said he hadn’t looked at the report yet, but also played down its implications.
“I have no context of how many GAO reports over the last 20 years might have reached similar conclusion that the law was violated,” Blunt said, adding that he would listen to whatever the House managers had to say when they began presenting their impeachment case.
Appropriations Committee member Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), a closely watched vote on trial procedural issues, also said she wasn’t yet familiar with the report, as did Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who had pushed behind the scenes for the White House to lift the the hold. Nonetheless, Johnson questioned the timing of the release of the opinion, calling it “interesting.”
While they may avoid weighing in on the report for now, the question of its relevance to the impeachment case will come to a head when senators are forced to vote on calling witnesses to testify at the trial.
“I am interested in learning everything I can learn by reading a GAO report and hearing the evidence,” Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), an appropriator, said Thursday. “I’ll look at the facts when the time comes.”