- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2020

Congress‘ official legal branch has determined that President Trump broke the law by withholding military assistance from Ukraine after Congress approved the money — fueling Democrats’ argument that the president should be impeached for his actions.

The Government Accountability Office said the decision amounted to an “impoundment” of the funds because of a policy dispute, which is not an acceptable reason under the law for the White House to hold up money after Congress votes for it and the president signs it into law.

“The [Impoundment Control Act] does not permit deferrals for policy reasons,” GAO General Counsel Thomas H. Armstrong wrote.

GAO’s ruling has no specific legal force, though Democrats said it’s more evidence Mr. Trump has acted outside the law.

“This bombshell legal opinion from the independent Government Accountability Office demonstrates, without a doubt, that the Trump Administration illegally withheld security assistance from Ukraine,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat who asked for the GAO’s evaluation.

“This violation of the law reflects a contempt for the Constitution and was a key part of his corrupt scheme to abuse the power of the presidency for his personal political purposes,” Mr. Van Hollen said.

Past presidents have also been dinged by the GAO for illegal behavior in shifting money, though more often it’s for spending money they don’t have, rather than not spending money they do have.

President Barack Obama was cited by the GAO for illegally diverting billions of dollars in Obamacare money that Congress had not approved for that purpose. The GAO also said Mr. Obama broke the law when he diverted money to pay for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was being held by the Taliban.

The Bush administration, meanwhile, was cited for covertly paying a columnist to promote its agenda, and for using government funds to promote the new Medicare prescription drug benefit in 2004.

Both presidents faced criticism for those decisions, though they did not face impeachment.

Mr. Trump, however, does face impeachment, with a trial in the Senate expected to begin next week.

Democrats have accused him of abuse of power, saying he withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in Ukraine military assistance for personal political reasons — he wanted the Ukraine government to investigate a political opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden.

The White House says Mr. Trump’s delay was because he wanted Ukraine to do more to stem corruption, and that there was no specific quid pro quo on the military money.

Democrats, in their articles of impeachment, also accuse Mr. Trump of obstruction of Congress by withholding documents and preventing witnesses from appearing.

The GAO said it, too, experienced troubles getting the administration to explain its actions.

“We consider a reluctance to provide a fulsome response to have constitutional significance,” Mr. Armstrong wrote. “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.”

GAO said the administration’s delay meant that not all of the money went out by the end of the fiscal year, which was a clear violation.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters Thursday that she hadn’t yet read the GAO report, but insisted Ukraine did get the money, “and got it within the deadline.”

“It’s much higher than they ever got under the Obama administration,” she said. “It’s allowed them to have cyber-rifles and Javelins to protect themselves and secure their country against foreign aggressors, including Russia.”

Dave Boyer contributed to this article.

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