Politics

OMB Pushes Back On GAO’s Finding That Withholding Ukraine Aid Was Illegal

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Amber Athey White House Correspondent
Font Size:

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Trump allies are pushing back on a Government Accountability Office (GAO) finding that the administration acted illegally by withholding aid from Ukraine earlier this year.

The GAO issued a legal decision Thursday indicating that OMB broke the law by withholding $214 million in security assistance to Ukraine in the summer of 2019, asserting that the agency cannot withhold funds for policy reasons. (RELATED: Trump Administration Illegally Withheld Aid From Ukraine, GAO Finds)

OMB told GAO, which is a nonpartisan, that it withheld the funds to ensure that they were not spent “in a manner that could conflict with the President’s foreign policy,” General Counsel Thomas Armstrong said.

The ruling could add fuel to the current impeachment proceedings as President Donald Trump is accused of a coordinated pressure campaign urging Ukraine to investigate a political opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.

However, OMB is standing by its authority to withhold the funds.

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

A senior administration official took it a step further, accusing the GAO of inappropriately asserting itself into the Democrats’ impeachment ambition and of having a long history of “flip-flops.”

“GAO’s findings are a pretty clear overreach as they attempt to insert themselves into the media’s controversy of the day. Further, GAO has a history of the flip-flops, reversing 40-years of precedent this year on their pocket rescission decision, they were also forced to reverse a legally faulty opinion when they opposed the reimbursement of federal employee travel costs,” the official told the Daily Caller. “In their rush to insert themselves in the impeachment narrative, maybe they’ll have to reverse their opinion again.”

The budget office also contended this past December in a letter to the GAO that it is well within its rights to control the flow of appropriated funds, adding that Congress itself has routinely withheld foreign aid.

“OMB regularly uses this apportionment authority to temporarily pause agency obligations to obtain additional information needed to determine the best possible use of the funds consistent with the law,” OMB General Counsel Mark R. Paoletta wrote.

The GAO is also an arm of Congress, and its decisions are not binding on the administration. It notably ruled against the Obama administration on several major policy decisions, particularly the administration’s move to release five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for the release of U.S. soldier Bowe Berghdahl without notifying Congress.

Matt Wolking, the Deputy Director of Communications for the Trump Campaign, posted a Twitter thread containing some of the GAO decisions that accused the Obama administration of acting illegally.

“We strongly disagree with GAO’s conclusion, and we reject the implication that the administration acted unlawfully,” the Obama administration said in response to the GAO’s Berghdahl decision at the time.

Chairman of the Conservative Partnership Institute and former Sen. Jim DeMint also attempted to show the irrelevance of the GAO’s decision by pointing out that it also accused the Trump administration of illegality when the president opted to keep national parks open during a government shutdown.