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US: Senate Democrat requests opinion on legality of Trump's Ukraine aid delay

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) is asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for an opinion on the legality of President Trump's decision to hold up Ukraine aid.

Van Hollen sent a letter on Monday to Gene Dodaro, the GAO comptroller general, outlining why he believes Trump's decision violated the Impoundment Control Act (ICA), which restricts a president's ability to withhold funds appropriated by Congress.
"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 wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Hill ahead of its release.

"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," Van Hollen continued.

The GAO announced last month that it was probing Trump's decision to delay $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has said it followed the correct procedures in holding the funding, which was released in mid-September.
Van Hollen's letter comes after the House voted to impeach Trump on two articles stemming from his decision to hold up Ukraine aid and his request that Ukraine President Zelensky help "look into" former Vice President Biden and his son Hunter Biden. One article charged Trump with abusing power in his dealings with Ukraine and the second with obstructing Congress during its investigation of those actions.

Van Hollen said in his letter that under the ICA, a president has to notify Congress if they want to claw back or freeze funding already passed by lawmakers. But, "not only did the President not notify Congress of a deferral or rescission," Van Hollen noted that the Defense Department told Congress twice that the funds would be obligated.

He added that Trump's "corrupt purpose" for delaying the aid does not meet the ICA's definition of a "programming delay," in which an agency can temporarily delay obligating money as they prepare to implement a program.

"It should be clear that the corrupt purposes identified by the House impeachment inquiry for withholding Ukraine aid violated the ICA," Van Hollen wrote.

Democrats have been raising concerns that Trump's delay violated the funding law for months.

House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) and Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) sent a letter in September to OMB demanding documents about the decision to delay Ukraine aid, and suggesting the move may have violated the ICA.

Mark Sandy, a senior OMB official, also told House investigators during a closed-door deposition that Trump's delay rankled agency staffers, leading two to resign in part because of their frustration.

“This person expressed to me concerns about actions vis-à-vis the Impoundment Control Act,” Sandy testified, referring to an OMB lawyer that resigned.
Sandy also told House lawmakers that he raised concerns that if the Ukraine aid was delayed for too long, it could “be a violation of the Impoundment Control Act.”
Trump has repeatedly stated that the release of the aid to Ukraine was not conditional, citing concerns about corruption inside the Ukrainian government as the reason.

But documents released over the weekend are likely to further fuel skepticism from Democrats. White House aides were tasked with holding up the Ukraine aid shortly after Trump's July 25 phone call with Zelensky, according to emails between OMB and the Pentagon that were released on Friday.
"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," Michael Duffey wrote to OMB and Pentagon officials on July 25.
Duffey, the associate director for national security within OMB, is one of four witnesses Senate Democrats want to call as part of an impeachment trial.

"Michael Duffey, a top Trump Administration official, sent an email ordering that the military assistance be withheld, and that that order be hush, hush and no one know about it. What were they hiding? What were they afraid of?" Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Sunday.

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