On Thursday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a nonpartisan report that definitely blames the Trump administration for illegally withholding funds from Ukraine that Congress lawfully appropriated. (report embedded below)
For months, Republicans have defended Donald Trump’s scheme to hold back vital security aid from America’s Ukrainian allies in their fight against Russia’s war of territorial aggression as “not committing a crime,” and thus not worthy of impeachment.
But the GAO’s 9-page report utterly destroys that GOP myth with the facts, namely that Trump’s directives to the White House Office of Management and Budget to withhold the funds were unlawful and broke the Impoundment Control Act (ICA).
Congress passed that Nixon-era law to avert precisely the kind of abuse of presidential power Trump has undertaken, by forcing the executive branch to spend Congressionally allocated funds under exact terms.
The GAO report says that Ukraine’s compliance with certain anti-corruption measures was already certified by the Pentagon under the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 before Trump’s political appointee, Michael Duffy at the OMB, froze the money anyway just 91 minutes after the now-infamous phone call where the President asked Ukraine’s leader for “a favor.”
A key passage of the report reads (citations omitted):
In its response to us, OMB described the withholding as necessary to ensure that the funds were not spent “in a manner that could conflict with the President’s foreign policy.”
The ICA does not permit deferrals for policy reasons. OMB’s justification for the withholding falls squarely within the scope of an impermissible policy deferral. Thus, the deferral of USAI funds was improper under the ICA.
Throughout its report, the GAO excoriated OMB officials’ lame excuses for participating in the president’s scheme to extort fake investigations, noting that the power of the purse rests in Congress’ hands. They even cited the oft-discussed “take care” clause of the Constitution, which requires the president to faithfully execute all laws, which an appropriations bill certainly is.
While the OMB and Department of Defense provided complete responses to the GAO’s investigators on their $250 million portion of funding, the report notes that the State Department stonewalled and refused to provide anything to the nonpartisan watchdog about its role in the impeachable offenses, as did the OMB.
The report noted in astonishment:
OMB and State have failed, as of yet, to provide the information we need to fulfill our duties under the ICA regarding potential impoundments of FMF funds.
“We consider a reluctance to provide a fulsome response to have constitutional significance,” the report’s authors ominously concluded, alluding to the ongoing impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. “GAO’s role under the ICA—to provide information and legal analysis to Congress as it performs oversight of executive activity—is essential to ensuring respect for and allegiance to Congress’ constitutional power of the purse. 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.”
Sen. Christopher Van Hollen’s (D-MD) dogged pursuit of the facts surrounding Trump’s violation of the ICA during an October budget hearing in the Senate by questioning the Comptroller General about the disbursement of Ukraine funds and followed up with a further letter last month, was noted by the GAO’s investigators.
Lastly, the GAO’s report notes that the OMB was required to notify Congress with detailed explanations for any delays and that the Pentagon had already taken nearly all of the required steps to spend the money, even having identified what they were going to send to Ukraine.
Today’s report by the Government Accountability Office obliterates all semblance of the impeached President Donald J. Trump’s paper-thin defenses that he didn’t violate any laws, so he shouldn’t be removed from office.
On the contrary, the nonpartisan Congressional agency has delivered a black and white denouncement of Donald Trump’s unlawful administration that is sure to echo through the ages for its menacing conclusions, which are sure to become crucial evidence in only the third presidential impeachment trial in American history.
Here’s the complete 9-page report:
Grant Stern is the Executive Editor of Occupy Democrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report, and an unpaid senior advisor to the Democratic Coalition.