According to Fox News: The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a legal opinion on Thursday saying that President Trump’s administration broke the law by withholding defense aid to Ukraine. That money, $214 million which had been allocated to the Department of Defense for security assistance, was appropriated by Congress and therefore the administration did not have the right to hold it back just because it disagreed with its allocation, the opinion from the nonpartisan government watchdog said. “Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” the opinion said. “[The Office of Management and Budget] OMB withheld funds for a policy reason … not a programmatic delay. Therefore, we conclude that the OMB violated the ICA [Impoundment Control Act].”
Naturally, the Office of Management and Budget (which withheld the aid) dissented from the report.
At the center of this is the aforementioned Impoundment Control Act (ICA), which governs how the White House distributes money approved by Congress. The ICA took effect in 1974 in response to Richard Nixon refusing to spend $12 billion in congressionally appropriated funds (who was working under the belief that withholding funds would lower inflation).
It’s odd that the GAO didn’t produce a similar report when the Obama Administration withheld lethal aid to Ukraine in 2014, though they did say Obama broke the law in exchanging five Taliban commanders for a U.S. soldier without giving Congress 30 days notice.
And speaking of Obama, he’s just one of many presidents to oppose what the ICA prohibits.
Raheem Kassam has a spectacular essay on the ICA in which he notes the following:
- The impoundment of funds is a measure a great many presidents and public figures have supported.: Abe Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, JFK, LBJ, Bill Clinton, the Bushes, John McCain, John Kerry, Al Gore, Pat Buchanan, Jeb Hensarling, Russ Feingold, Joe Lieberman, Judd Gregg, and not least both Paul Ryan… and Barack Obama” have all supported the power of the presidency to balance the spending power of Congress. As such, they would’ve all opposed the ICA.
- The third U.S. President, Thomas Jefferson, was the first to push back against Congress’ power of appropriation, which the ICA further legally enshrined: Jefferson established the first faint outline of what years later became a major controversy. Reporting that $50,000 in funds which Congress had appropriated for fifteen gunboats on the Mississippi remained unexpended, the President stated that a “favorable and peaceful turn of affairs on the Mississippi rendered an immediate execution of the law unnecessary… .” But he was not refusing to expend the money, only delaying action to obtain improved gunboats; a year later, he told Congress that the money was being spent and gun-boats were being obtained. [Much like how the Ukraine aid was delayed]
- The Akron Law Review reported on President John F. Kennedy’s support for the same kind of hold President Trump is alleged to ordered on Ukraine aid: President Kennedy’s major impoundment controversy centered about the RS-70, a long-range bomber. Congress appropriated nearly two times the amount that the President had requested, and Secretary of Defense McNamara refused to release the excess funds and emphasized that America’s missile deterrence capability combined with existing bomber strength was more than adequate.
There was no legal action taken against Barack Obama by the GAO when his administration broke the law in 2014. We’ll see if they’re consistent this time around.