President Trump talks on the telephone in the Oval Office of the White House in June 2017.

President Trump talks on the telephone in the Oval Office of the White House in June 2017. Evan Vucci / AP file photo

Watchdog Still Reviewing Trump Administration's Handling of Some Ukraine Funds 

GAO found that the Trump team broke the law by withholding $214 million in Defense funds for policy reasons, but is still looking at another $168 million in State Department funds.

A government watchdog is still reviewing the legality of how the Trump administration handled some of the funding to Ukraine that was the subject of President Trump’s first impeachment in the House. 

In January 2020, the Government Accountability Office determined that the Trump administration's Office of Management and Budget violated the Impoundment Control Act by withholding approximately $214 million in Defense Department funds from Ukraine for policy reasons. The Trump administration contested the decision. At the time the watchdog said it was still reviewing an additional $168 million in State Department funds for another potential violation. 

“While there were delays in obtaining some information, we now have needed documents and are actively working on the matter,” a GAO spokesperson told Government Executive on Tuesday. “But we do not have any specific release date as of yet.” 

Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette, government affairs manager at the Project on Government Oversight, told Government Executive on Wednesday “it’s not optimal that it’s taken this long” and part of the issue is that Trump’s Office of Management and Budget didn’t follow the “customary practice” of telling agencies to always cooperate with GAO investigations. 

There is no law about this, Hedtler-Gaudette said, but “that is a reform that absolutely ought to be looked at and has been proposed specifically in the Congressional Power of the Purse Act,” which Democrats in the House and Senate introduced last year. 

Also, the Impoundment Control Act “is kind of a toothless law,” which is why nothing happened after GAO’s January 2020 report, he added. 

If GAO does find that the law was broken again nothing would happen, he believes, which is “a huge problem because the public is concerned with corruption in a general manner and if they see things like this that look pretty corrupt happen and then there are no consequences or accountability that reinforces that view.” 

The Protecting Our Democracy Act that House Democrats introduced on Tuesday addresses some of these issues, Hedtler-Gaudette pointed out. 

The most recent situation involving the Impoundment Control Act was in regard to President Biden’s pause of border wall construction after he came into office. Republicans believed the Biden administration violated the law and in March asked GAO to conduct a review. GAO began examining that issue soon after Biden’s announcement in January even before the watchdog accepted the request from the lawmakers.

In June, GAO announced it determined that the Biden administration’s move did not violate the law. 

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