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Behind the GAO Report that Concluded Trump Broke the Law on Ukraine

Donald Trump speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona.
Donald Trump speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Will a damaging report from the GAO fall into obscurity now that Republicans are trying to fast track the Trump impeachment process?

President Donald Trump broke the law by withholding $214 million from Ukraine for security assistance, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirmed in a report last Thursday. Since then Republicans and Democrats have put their own spin on the report either vilifying it as overreaching or lauding it as a justification for the Trump impeachment investigation.

What the GAO Report Said

The GAO, the supreme audit institution of the federal government, reported The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) withheld congressionally-approved Department of Defense funds “for a policy reason” which violates the law.  President Trump’s role in the withholding of American military support to Ukraine is central to Congress’s impeachment proceedings against Trump.

The GAO plainly clarified, “faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law.”

Upon request for factual information from the auditing agency, the White House referred to a written response from the OMB which claimed that the withholding of funds was a part of a “programmatic delay.” However, the GAO found no basis in the law for this claim. As of the publishing date of the report, the DOD also refused to make a formal comment.

According to the report, the White House and OMB violated the constitution by usurping the budgetary powers of Congress. The key law broken was the Impoundment Control Act, a federal law outlining Congress’ role in the budget and requiring changes in obligated budgetary spending to be run by Congress.

The auditors also called into question the withholding of other foreign military financing and stated their intent to further investigate the OMB.

Reaction to GAO Report

In total, the development served as another governmental retort to the Trump White House’s claims of an “impeachment hoax”.  The report came a day after Speaker of the House sent impeachment articles against President Trump to the Senate.

Russ Vought, acting director of the OMB, took a combative stance to the GAO’s report and tweeted in response, “this GAO opinion comes from the same people who said we couldn’t keep National Parks open during the shutdown. Recently GAO flipped its position twice in the last few months. We wouldn’t be surprised if they reverse again. Regardless, the Admin complied with the law at every step.”

Administration officials also took to Fox News in an attempt to limit the damage of the bombshell report. One official said the report was “pretty clear overreach as they (the GAO) attempt to insert themselves into the media’s controversy of the day.”

In contrast to the messaging from the White House, many Democrats released statements arguing this bodes well for impeachment proceedings.

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) commented on the report and upcoming Senate hearings on impeachment, “the GAO opinion makes clear that the documents we requested in our letter last month are even more needed now because GAO confirmed the president broke the law. All Senators will get a chance to vote to obtain these documents next week.”

Impact of the GAO Report

With all this said, the articles of impeachment do not specifically accuse the Trump White House or the OMB of withholding funds in violation of the ICA. Rather they argue Trump abused his powers in order to influence the 2020 presidential election and obstructed Congress in its investigation into the matter.

The report bolsters the Democrats’ claim that Trump abused the office of the president as the GAO wrote on President Trump’s failure to faithfully execute federal law on budgetary oversight.

Whether this moves the needle on a politically entrenched impeachment process remains to be seen. The report received mainstream media attention, but impeachment news comes thick and fast with a new character or development entering nearly every day.

In light of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s announcement on Monday to proceed with impeachment hearings at an unprecedented speed, the GAO report could fall to the wayside in favor of the Republicans’ push to wrap up the affair as soon as possible.

Alec Pronk

Alec is a freelance writer with an interest in both geopolitics and American domestic issues. He finished his Master's degree with a critical focus on government counterterrorism policies.

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