Watchdog says Trump administration broke the law by retaining Ukraine’s help

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration violated the law by withholding security assistance to Ukraine, a federal nonpartisan surveillance agency said Thursday, considering a decision by President Trump at the heart of the political trial case against him .

The Government Accountability Office said the White House Administration and Budget Office violated the Award Control Law when it withheld almost $ 400 million for “a political reason,” despite the fact that Congress had allocated the funds. The decision was directed by the president himself, and during the political trial investigation of the House of Representatives, administration officials declared that they had expressed concern about their legality in vain.

“The faithful execution of the law does not allow the president to substitute his own political priorities for those that Congress has promulgated,” said G.A.O. wrote “Retention was not a programmatic delay.”

The embargo law limits the power of the president to retain the money allocated by Congress, and requires that he obtain the approval of the legislative branch if he so wishes.

The White House budget office quickly rejected the conclusions of the report.

“We disagree with the opinion of G.A.O.,” said Rachel Semmel, a spokeswoman for the budget office. “O.M.B. uses its distribution authority to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent properly in accordance with the president’s priorities and with the law.”

The report, by itself, does not give rise to any action, although its publication just when Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial is underway will surely feed additional questions about the impact of his actions. The core of the political trial charges is the accusation that the president withheld security assistance as part of a campaign to pressure Ukraine to initiate investigations into his political rivals that would discredit them and help him win reelection in 2020.

Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, a vocal critic of Trump’s decision to block the funds, called G.A.O. report an “explosive legal opinion.” “It demonstrates, without a doubt, that the Trump Administration illegally withheld Ukraine’s assistance and public evidence shows that the president himself ordered this illegal act,” he wrote on Twitter.

This is a developing story. Please check the updates.

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