Trump Administration Illegally Withheld Ukraine Aid, Congressional Watchdog Finds

The Trump administration illegally withheld congressionally approved U.S. aid to Ukraine in the summer of 2019, according to a congressional watchdog report released Thursday.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan agency that works for Congress, found that the Office of Management and Budget violated federal law under the direction of President Donald Trump.

“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 reads in part. “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.”

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted to send articles of impeachment against Trump to the Senate, where lawmakers will determine in an upcoming trial whether the president should be removed from office.

The two articles of impeachment ― abuse of power and obstruction of Congress ― relate to Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine to publicly commit to investigating former Vice President Joe Biden, a front-runner in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race.

Several current and former State Department officials testified during a monthslong impeachment inquiry in the House last year that the Trump administration withheld over $240 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine as part of that pressure campaign.

Trump has claimed he did nothing wrong in asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden.

The Office of Management and Budget ― a federal bureau within the executive office that oversees the president’s budget and the performance of federal agencies ― rejected GAO’s findings Thursday, claiming its handling of the aid was consistent with the law.

“We disagree with GAO’s opinion,” OMB spokeswoman Rachel Semmel told HuffPost in a statement. “OMB uses its apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent consistent with the President’s priorities and with the law.”

But Democrats quickly seized on the report’s conclusions.

“The bombshell legal opinion from the independent [GAO] demonstrates, without a doubt, that the Trump Administration illegally withheld assistance from Ukraine,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) tweeted. “The public evidence shows that the president himself ordered this illegal act.”

Though the GOA’s decisions are significant, the office doesn’t have the authority to compel other agencies to take action in response to its findings.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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