In a newly released report, the Government Accountability Office has ruled that the White House Budget Office broke the law when it withheld military aid from Ukraine last summer. Democrats launched their impeachment inquiry against President Trump as the result of a whistleblower complaint alleging that Trump tried to coerce Ukraine into investigating his political opponent Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Trump reportedly agreed to withhold military aid to Ukraine a few hours after that phone call.
"Today, GAO issued a legal decision concluding that the Office of Management and Budget violated the law when it withheld approximately $214 million appropriated to DOD for security assistance to Ukraine," the GAO writes in its report. "The President has narrow, limited authority to withhold appropriations under the Impoundment Control Act of 1974. OMB told GAO that it withheld the funds to ensure that they were not spent "in a manner that could conflict with the President’s foreign policy." The law does not permit OMB to withhold funds for policy reasons.
The White House vehemently disagrees and called the GAO's conclusion an "overreach."
The GAO’s findings "are a pretty clear overreach as they attempt to insert themselves into the media’s controversy of the day," a senior administration official reportedly told Fox News.
OMB Spokesperson Rachel Semmel added:
OMB Spokesperson Rachel Semmel's response:— Weijia Jiang (@weijia) January 16, 2020
"We disagree with GAO's opinion. OMB uses its apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent consistent with the President's priorities and with the law."
Reacting to the same charge last month, Semmel said that it was "reckless to tie the hold of funds to the phone call."
"As has been established and publicly reported, the hold was announced in an interagency meeting on July 18," she explains. The now infamous phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky was on July 25.
Still, Democrats are jumping on Thursday's report.
"This is a bombshell" ahead of next week's impeachment trial, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) reacted on CNN.
What the GAO has done is "establish conclusively that the Trump administration violated the law when they withheld money."
"He made an order to commit an illegal act," Van Hollen continued. "This is all part of the illegal scheme in order to put pressure on Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election on his behalf."
Trump showed "total contempt for the Constitution," Van Hollen said. And the report will "definitely" be part of the debate and the trial, the senator promised.