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Top government watchdog finds that Trump broke the law by withholding military aid from Ukraine

Business Insider logo Business Insider 1/16/2020 Eliza Relman,Sonam Sheth
Donald Trump, Ben Cardin are posing for a picture © Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images
  • The US Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent watchdog, announced on Thursday that President Donald Trump's administration broke the law when it held over $200 million in military aid to Ukraine over the summer.
  • The GAO determined that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) violated the Impoundment Control Act, which sets limits on when a president candefer="defer"congressionally approved spending, by "substitut[ing] [Trump's] own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law."
  • The GAO's finding comes as Trump faces a snowballing congressional impeachment inquiry and a trove of evidence showing government employees repeatedly raised concerns about the aid freeze but were stonewalled by senior administration officials.
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The independent US Government Accountability Office concluded Thursday that President Donald Trump and his administration broke the law by withholding over $200 million of congressionally appropriated military aid to Ukraine over the summer.

The issue is at the center of Trump's impeachment over his alleged use of the aid and a White House meeting as leverage to pressure the Ukrainian president to investigate his political opponents.

The GAO found that Trump's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) violated the Impoundment Control Act, which sets limits on when a president candefer="defer"congressionally approved spending, by "substitut[ing] his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law."

Democrats immediately began celebrating the decision, which comes as the Senate prepares to begin its impeachment trial.

"This bombshell legal opinion from the independent @USGAO demonstrates, without a doubt, that the Trump Administration illegally withheld assistance from Ukraine and the public evidence shows that the president himself ordered this illegal act," Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen tweeted Thursday.

For weeks, officials at the Office of Management and Budget ignored warnings from the Department of Defense that placing a hold on a congressionally appropriated $391 million military-aid package to Ukraine violated the law, according to new unredacted emails obtained by Just Security and published earlier this month.

According to the emails, the DOD warned the OMB several times that continuing to withhold the aid violated the Impoundment Control Act, which stipulates that if the federal funds are not spent on their designated purpose within a certain period, they will be taken, or impounded, by the Treasury Department.

Trump has offered a variety of reasons for withholding the aid, arguing that he wanted Ukraine to crack down on corruption and Europe to pitch in more to aid the country.

Sonam Sheth and Grace Panetta contributed reporting.

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