GAO: Trump Broke the Law on Ukraine
Back in November, I wrote a pretty extensive column on the House impeachment hearings and whether or not the Democrats had built an effective case for impeaching President Trump. I wasn't someone who supported the decision to initiate the hearings, but I did find a lot of what we learned from depositions and credible testimony to be quite troubling.
It was pretty obvious that Trump had attempted to extort a foreign power into digging up dirt on one of his political opponents, and that he had used congressionally approved and certified U.S. security funding as his leverage.
That act was very clearly an abuse of presidential power. Whether or not that abuse rose to the level an "impeachable offense" was a matter of opinion. Here's what I wrote about this in the November column:
The stated bar for impeachment is the commission of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” While this term isn’t defined in the U.S. Constitution, the longtime majority view among constitutional scholars and legal precedent is that it doesn’t necessarily refer to literal crimes, but rather any serious abuse of presidential power. Ultimately, the determination is left up to the U.S. Congress.
Again, something doesn't have to be illegal to be impeachable.
That reality didn't sit well with some people in the comment section and elsewhere (coincidentally all Trump fans), who were insistent that impeaching a president over a legal act, no matter how troubling the act, was unjustifiable and an abuse of congressional power.
Purely on the matter of legality, I wasn't sure if Trump had broken the law, and I made that clear. I was waiting for a credible legal judgment on the matter, rather than mere speculation.
Well, today that judgment came. As it turns out, Trump did break the law. That was the decision finding of the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
GAO determined that the White House's Office of Management and Budget (at the direction of President Trump) committed an illegal act by withholding military aid to Ukraine. Specifically, the OMB violated a requirement in the 1974 Impoundment Control Act that the White House (and its agencies) disburse funding appropriated by the U.S. Congress as directed by the legislative branch.
The law “does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law," GAO added. "...The President is not vested with the power to ignore or amend any such duly enacted law."
Now, will this finding change anyone's mind in regard to impeachment? Almost certainly not. After all, we live in an era of perpetually moving, politically partisan goalposts.
Reliable Trump defenders (at least those not inclined to blow off GAO's decision as the latest "deep state" conspiracy) will likely insist that this was just a minor legal infraction, and thus no more worthy of impeachment than a perfectly legal act. We'll also hear plenty of comparisons to the Obama White House, and how it broke laws too.
Regardless, as contrived as a lot of the Democrats' efforts on impeachment have been (including that ridiculous pen-signing ceremony the other day), today's finding is not good news for the Trump administration.