The Government Accountability Office released a report Thursday claiming that President Donald Trump violated federal law when he temporarily withheld military aid from Ukraine last summer, a charge Democrats say supports their impeachment effort.
In an eight-page report Republicans are already questioning in terms of the timing of its release — the same day Democrats officially transmitted two articles of impeachment against the president to the Senate — the GAO claimed, “Faithful execution of the law does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law.”
Last July, President Trump ordered a temporary halt to military aid for Ukraine amid concerns about corruption. Ukrainian officials would later say they did not realize that the aid had been frozen, and by September the nearly $400 million package was delivered.
“I have never seen such a damning report in my life,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. “I mean, this is a nonpartisan thing. I read it twice. … To have something saying this is such a total disrespect of the law. It’s unprecedented.”
But the GAO claimed that in 2014 when then-President Barack Obama swapped five Taliban prisoners for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. Army deserter, he, too, violated the law.
Yet, there was no call for his impeachment, critics noted.
“The Obama administration violated the law when it failed to give Congress adequate notice about the transfer of five detainees from Guantanamo Bay as part of a swap for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the investigative arm of Congress said,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
Bergdahl was released May 31, 2014, after spending nearly five years in Taliban captivity.
“The Department of Defense violated section 8111 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2014 when it transferred five individuals detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the nation of Qatar without providing at least 30-days notice to certain congressional committees,” the Government Accountability Office said in response to a letter from Republican lawmakers at the time.
The department also violated another law that prohibits federal employees from spending money not authorized by Congress. “DOD should report its Antideficiency Act violation as required by law,” the GAO said.
At the time, Obama defended the swap, noting the U.S. military had a “sacred rule” to leave no member behind.
“In this case, the duty to inform Congress could have been easily satisfied and it was not even necessary to violate the law in order to carry out the exchange,” wrote George Washington Law Professor Jonathan Turley at the time the ruling was made. “It seems more likely that this was done for political purposes to avoid opposition in Congress.”
For his part, Trump has said he has done nothing wrong, noting that current federal law requires him to ensure that Ukraine is sufficiently battling corruption that is inherent in its government in exchange for taxpayer-funded aid.