US Government Accountability Office Finds Trump Administration Illegally Withheld Ukraine Aid

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Sparking fresh calls for the Republican-controlled Senate to remove President Donald Trump from office, a federal watchdog agency announced Thursday that the White House violated the law by withholding congressionally approved US military aid to Ukraine-a decision at the center of the impeachment probe.

The GAO, a nonpartisan congressional watchdog, said in a decision issued Thursday that the White House budget office violated the Impoundment Control Act, a 1974 law that limits the White House from withholding funds that Congress has appropriated.

In a letter to GAO in December, OMB lawyer Paoletta argued that the holdup of the Ukraine aid was a simply a "programmatic delay" and therefore did not require prior notice to Congress.

"[The Office of Management and Budget] and State have failed, as of yet, to provide the information we need to fulfill our duties under the ICA regarding potential impoundments of [Foreign Military Financing] funds", Armstrong said.

"Well, then it's a good thing that the aid that Congress approved got to Ukraine intact and it got there because this president released it", she stated.

The abuse of power cited by the House included Trump's withholding of $US391 million ($567 million) passed by Congress in security aid for Ukraine, a move aimed at pressuring Kiev into investigating political rival Joe Biden, the Republican president's possible Democratic opponent in the upcoming U.S. election.

The OMB froze the congressionally approved $250 million appropriated to the Department of Defense for security assistance to Ukraine to review corruption issues in Ukraine, President Donald Trump said.

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The federal watchdog's report is another blow for President Donald Trump, who was impeached last month and faces a Senate trial that could oust him from office.

Several current and former Trump administration officials testified that the military aid and a White House meeting with the Ukrainian president were put on hold as Trump pushed for an investigation into Biden. 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 House impeachment inquiry accuses Trump of pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, his potential Democratic rival in the November election, and Biden's son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company when his father was U.S. vice president.

"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".

"The law does not permit OMB to withhold funds for policy reasons". Trump has reportedly tapped the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, to lead his team. "OMB's assertions have no basis in law".

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.

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