President Donald Trump talks to members of the media on the South Lawn of the White House.Photo by Oliver Contreras/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 16 (UPI) -- The Trump administration broke the law when it withheld Congress-approved aid for the Ukrainian military last year, the Government Accountability Office said in a report Thursday.
The eight-page report said the White House budget office violated the the federal Impoundment Control Act when it withheld $214 million in aid to Kiev -- the very issue that's the focus of the Senate's impeachment trial against President Donald Trump.
The executive branch is prohibited by law from withholding, or "impounding," funds appropriated by Congress from their stated purpose unless it provides a convincing reason for doing so, which the government watchdog said the Trump administration failed to provide.
The burden to justify withholding funds "rests with the executive branch," the GAO said.
"Here, [the Office of Management and Budget] has failed to meet this burden. We conclude that OMB violated the [law] when it withheld [the] funds for a policy reason."
Senior White House officials told House investigators last year Trump ordered the aid withheld in July, around the same time he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce Kiev was investigating Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, a former board member for a Ukraine gas company.
The administration eventually released the aid. One article of impeachment against Trump, on abuse of power, centers on the accusation he withheld the aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival.
"Trump's willingness to break the law to coerce Ukraine to help him cheat in the next election shows the magnitude of his abuse of power," said House intelligence committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, one of seven Democratic managers who will present evidence against Trump in the Senate trial.
"Today's report is extremely troubling because it documents in great detail President Trump's belief that he is above the law and his utter contempt for Congress as a co-equal branch of government," added oversight committee Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney.
"The more we learn about the President's corrupt abuse of power, the worse it gets," Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, another Democratic trial manager, said. "This is America. No one is above the law. The President must be held accountable."
Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate is expected to begin next week. Earlier Thursday, Ukraine announced it's investigating reports that former U.S. diplomat Marie Yovanovitch was under surveillance while in her official capacity in Kiev last year.
President Donald Trump delivers remarks as the Louisiana State University Tigers visit the East Room of the White House on Friday. The team is celebrating
their college football national championship. Photo by Sarah Silbiger/UPI | License Photo