White House 'violated the law' on Ukraine aid, says US congressional watchdog

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The White House budget office “violated the law” by freezing military aid to put political pressure on Ukraine’s government, a US congressional watchdog announced on Thursday (Jan 16) as President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial looms.

The damning report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) says it “issued a legal decision concluding that the Office of Management and Budget violated the law when it withheld approximately US$214 million appropriated to DOD (Department of Defence) for security assistance to Ukraine.” That amount equates to S$288 million.

Congress passed legislation appropriating the financial assistance to Ukraine last year as a way to provide a much-needed boost to the country’s national security efforts amid a deadly military conflict with Russia that began in 2014.

The House impeachment inquiry concluded that Trump’s administration improperly withheld the aid as leverage in an effort to get Ukraine to open investigations that would help the president politically.

“OMB withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act,” the GAO said, noting that the budget office actively took steps to make the funds “unavailable” despite being congressionally appropriated.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” it said.

The report’s damning assessment landed just as Trump’s impeachment trial was set to convene in the US Senate.

It follows a bombshell revelation on Wednesday that an associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani directly implicated him in the scandal, saying the president “knew exactly what was going on” in Ukraine.

The House impeachment inquiry accuses Trump of pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, his potential Democratic rival in the November election, and Biden’s son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company when his father was US vice president.

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