White House ‘violated the law’ on Ukraine aid, says watchdog

WASHINGTON: The White House budget office “violated the law” by freezing military aid to put political pressure on Ukraine’s government, a US congressional watchdog announced on Thursday as President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial looms.
The damning report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office says it “issued a legal decision concluding that the Office of Management and Budget violated the law when it withheld approximately $214 million appropriated to DOD (Department of Defense) for security assistance to Ukraine.”
Congress passed legislation appropriating the financial assistance to Ukraine last year as a way to provide a much-needed boost to the country’s national security efforts amid a deadly military conflict with Russia that began in 2014.
The House impeachment inquiry concluded that Trump’s administration improperly withheld the aid as leverage in an effort to get Ukraine to open investigations that would help the president politically.
“OMB withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act,” the GAO said, noting that the budget office actively took steps to make the funds “unavailable” despite being congressionally appropriated.
“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” it said.
The report’s damning assessment landed just as Trump’s impeachment trial was set to convene in the US Senate.
It follows a bombshell revelation on Wednesday that an associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani directly implicated him in the scandal, saying the president “knew exactly what was going on” in Ukraine.
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 US vice-president.
Meanwhile, the US Senate will take charge of the impeachment process on Thursday, setting the stage for the trial of President Donald Trump to get under way in earnest next week.
The seven managers appointed by the House of Representatives — effectively the prosecutors — are scheduled to march over to the Senate and read out the two articles of impeachment to the upper chamber at noon.
Two hours later Chief Justice John Roberts is due to arrive from the Supreme Court to begin swearing in the 100 senators for the trial.
The House managers are all Democrats with legal backgrounds, chosen by the party leadership on Wednesday, and led by lawmaker Adam Schiff.
The prosecutors face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate, and it is unlikely the required two-thirds of its members will vote to remove Trump from office.
It still remains unclear if Trump’s Republican Party will give in to demands from the Democrats to call witnesses and procure more documentation, even as more evidence continues to emerge showing that the president was involved in a dubious pressure campaign on Ukraine. — Agencies