KEY POINTS

  • Van Hollen wants to know whether the president had the authority to withhold military aid to Ukraine
  • The letter notes the administration never notified Congress it was delaying aid
  • The request follows revelation Trump's decision to withhold aid came 91 minutes after he asked Ukraine's president to investigate Joe Biden

 

Sen. Chris Van Hollen said Monday he wants a legal opinion from the Government Accountability Office on whether President Trump had the authority to withhold congressionally approved aid to Ukraine.

The letter to GAO Comptroller Gene Dodaro comes one day after the revelation of an email obtained by the Center for Public Integrity indicating Trump ordered the moratorium on $391 million in military aid within 91 minutes of his July 25 conversation with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky during which he asked Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.

"Based on guidance I have received and in light of the administration's plan to review assistance to Ukraine, including the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, please hold off on any additional DoD obligations of these funds, pending direction from that process," wrote Michael Duffey, the associate director for national security within OMB and one of the witnesses Democrats want to call during an impeachment trial.

The email added: "Given the sensitive nature of the request, I appreciate your keeping that information closely held to those who need to know to execute direction."

The U.S. House approved two articles of impeachment, mainly along party lines, against Trump last week for withholding that aid, accusing him of abusing the power of his office for personal gain and then blocking Congress from investigating that conduct. Duffey was one of the administration officials who ignored a subpoena to testify before House impeachment investigators.

Van Hollen, D-Md., asked Dodaro to determine whether Trump violated the Impoundment Control Act, The Hill reported.

 "The administration has failed to even state a legal reason under the ICA for its withholding of security assistance for Ukraine, and the evidence refutes the administration’s stated reasons," Van Hollen.

 "The administration must be held accountable for its violations of the ICA, or we will open the floodgates for this and future administrations to violate the ICA with impunity."

The letter notes the law requires the administration to notify Congress if it wants to freeze any funding approved by lawmakers.

“Not only did the president not notify Congress of a deferral or a rescission,” the Defense Department officials told Congress the funds would be released, the letter said.

The funds eventually were released Sept. 11, but only after a whistleblower complaint about the phone call was filed.

The administration has provided shifting reasons for its actions and insisted the release of the aid was not dependent on Ukraine opening any investigations. Trump supporters insist the president was concerned about corruption in Ukraine, but acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney admitted during a news conference the action was the result of political considerations.

The House Budget Committee has demanded documents from the Office of Management and Budget explaining the decision, but the administration has declined to turn anything over.