• The Office of Management and Budget asked the Pentagon to hold off on sending $391 million in military aid to Ukraine
  • The GAO said OMB failed to adhere to the mechanism in the Impoundment Control Act for withholding appropriated funds
  • The White House called the opinion "overreach"

The Trump administration delay in releasing security aid to Ukraine was illegal, the nonpartisan Government Accounting Office said Thursday.

The GAO said the White House Office of Management and Budget violated the Impoundment Control Act, which governs how money approved by Congress should be disbursed. The law has a mechanism for reconsidering appropriated funds, but the administration did not go through that process.

“The president has narrow, limited authority to withhold appropriations under the Impoundment Control Act of 1974,” the GAO said in a press statement. “OMB told GAO that it withheld the funds to ensure that they were not spent ‘in a manner that could conflict with the president’s foreign policy.’ The law does not permit OMB to withhold funds for policy reasons.”

The delay in releasing $391 million in military aid to Ukraine is at the heart of the impeachment charges against President Trump. He is accused of withholding the funds in a bid to pressure Kyiv into conducting an investigation that could have helped his reelection campaign.

The GAO decision came as the Senate prepared to accept two articles of impeachment and the evidence behind them from the House.

“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 GAO legal opinion found.

The White House called the GAO decision “overreach” and accused it of trying to insert itself into the impeachment controversy.

“We disagree with GAO’s opinion,” OMB spokeswoman Rachel Semmel said. “OMB uses its apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent consistent with the President’s priorities and with the law.”

White House budget officials have framed their actions as routine, an effort to make sure Ukraine was making good on pledges to fight corruption. However, at least two OMB officials resigned over concerns the money was being withheld illegally.

Emails released last month indicated the Pentagon was directed to withhold the funds after a July 25 phone call during which Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, who polls indicate is the leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. Trump has denied wrongdoing.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., had requested the GAO opinion and called it a “bombshell.” It could add weight to Democrats demands that witnesses be called during Trump’s impeachment trial, which is expected to get underway in earnest on Tuesday.