The GAO made a splash today when it concluded that Trump ‘broke the law’ in withholding aid to Ukraine last year. Of course Democrats are running with this, calling it a BOMBSHELL and suggesting it’s more reason why Trump should be impeached. Here’s the gist of the GAO report:
In the summer of 2019, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) withheld from obligation funds appropriated to the Department of Defense (DOD) for security assistance to Ukraine. In order to withhold the funds, OMB issued a series of nine apportionment schedules with footnotes that made all unobligated balances unavailable for obligation.
Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law. OMB withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act (ICA). The withholding was not a programmatic delay. Therefore, we conclude that OMB violated the ICA.
Ed Morrisey once again helps us understand why this conclusion misses the mark:
Read the whole report, however, and one finds the glaring issue with this conclusion, which is that the administration didn’t have an obligation to release the funds on any specific date in the fiscal year. All they needed to do was to make sure the money got spent by the last day of the budget cycle.
That last day of the budget cycle was September 30th. The money was released on September 11th, well before the end of the budget cycle. Morrissey says because of this there’s no violation:
In this case, the money did get spent within the budget year. The aid may not have gone out as quickly as Congress intended or as the administration first planned, but as long as it got spent, there’s no violation. And contra the GAO’s take, delays for non-programmatic reasons don’t violate the ICA as long as it doesn’t go past the same fiscal year as the appropriation.
But even if there were a violation here, he points out that it would only amount to a civil offense and not an impeachable offense:
Under the agreement of both the executive and legislative branches in 1974, this is a civil matter, not a “high crime or misdemeanor.” It’s an absurdly picayune basis for removing an elected president, the head of a co-equal branch of government.
Rather, Morrissey notes, the solution to an actual violation is written in the law itself and would only amount to a lawsuit to force the administration to release the funds:
Even if it did, though, Congress proposed the remedy for such failures within the ICA itself, as I noted last month when the issue first got raised. The remedy is to sue the administration to force it to spend the funds, not to criminally prosecute the president over it…
So there you have it. A big fat nothingburger that is only being hyped by Democrats who hate the president and are looking for anything, no matter how small, to make him look bad. More Trump Derangement Syndrome.