Surprise: GAO’s well-timed finding on Trump White House brings back memories

by WorldTribune Staff, January 17, 2020

As the Senate was preparing for the impeachment trial on Thursday, Democrats and their corporate media allies could not contain their glee when the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a legal opinion that the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had violated the law by withholding aid to Ukraine.

If GAO opinions in fact could be used to justify impeachment, then President Barack Obama would have been impeached — seven times. / C-SPAN

Specifically, the GAO said that the OMB had violated the Impoundment Control Act (ICA) by withholding the congressionally appropriated aid last summer.

Breitbart on Thursday noted that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi included the GAO’s opinion in her morning press conference — though she had trouble pronouncing the word “impoundment” — and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also played up the GAO’s decision as a vindication of the House impeachment.

As Breitbart’s Joel B. Pollak pointed out, the GAO “works for Congress, it is not the finder of fact in impeachment cases. Moreover, it is not even clear that the Impoundment Control Act is constitutional.”

If GAO opinions in fact could be used to justify impeachment, then President Barack Obama would have been impeached — seven times.

Breitbart published a list of the times the GAO found that the Obama administration had violated federal law:

• The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and United States Secret Service (USSS) were found to have violated section 503 of the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act, and the Antideficiency Act, in 2009 after the Secret Service reported that it had overspent on candidate protection in 2008 by $5,100,000, and used money from another program to cover the shortfall. DHS failed to notify Congress 15 days in advance of the “reprogramming.”
• The Department of the Treasury was found to have violated the Antideficiency Act in 2014 when it used the voluntary services of four individuals. “Treasury did not appoint any of the individuals to federal employment, nor did any individual qualify as a student who may, under certain circumstances, perform voluntary service,” the GAO found, adding that there was no emergency that might have justified using the individuals to perform several months of work without receiving pay.
• The Department of Defense was found to have violated the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2014 and the Antideficiency Act in the infamous Bowe Bergdahl swap, when President Barack Obama traded five high-level Taliban detainees for a U.S. Army deserter. The administration transferred the five Taliban from Guantanamo Bay without notifying relevant congressional committees 30 days in advance, as required by law. Republicans complained; Democrats were silent.
• The Department of Housing and Urban Development was found to have violated the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, and the Antideficiency Act in 2014 when the deputy secretary of the department sent an email to “friends and colleagues” asking them to lobby the Senate in favor of a bill appropriating money to the department, and against amendments offered by Republican Senators.
• The Environmental Protection Agency was found to have violated “publicity or propaganda and anti-lobbying provisions” in the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act and the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act in 2015 by using some of the department’s social media accounts in rule-making for the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) regulations (which have since been repealed under the Trump administration).
• Two officials in the Department of Housing and Urban Development were found in 2016 to have violated Section 713 of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act by attempting to prevent a regional director within the agency from being interviewed by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. (Notably, the GAO reversed its earlier decision that the department’s general counsel had not violated the law once it was presented with more evidence.)
• The Federal Maritime Commission was found to have violated Section 711 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, as well as the Antideficiency Act, in 2016 when it failed to notify the relevant Senate and House committees that it had spent more than $5,000 to furnish and redecorate the office of its former director in 2010. (The total amount spent was $12,084 over three years, as noted by the GAO in a footnote reference to an inspector general’s report on the excessive expenditures.)’s Raheem Kassam noted that the ICA “is scarcely an unchallenged piece of legislation, and indeed has faced pushback from the most liberal-left of presidents, and its premise has been undermined by America’s greatest historic figures.”

President Thomas Jefferson was the first to push back against Congress’ power of appropriation, which the ICA further legally enshrined to punish President Richard Nixon:

…Jefferson established the first faint outline of what years later became a major controversy. Reporting that $50,000 in funds which Congress had appropriated for fifteen gunboats on the Mississippi remained unexpended, the President stated that a “favorable and peaceful turn of affairs on the Mississippi rendered an immediate execution of the law unnecessary… .” But he was not refusing to expend the money, only delaying action to obtain improved gunboats; a year later, he told Congress that the money was being spent and gun-boats were being obtained.

The same behavior that Jefferson displayed is what the GAO is accusing President Donald Trump of doing. The impoundment of funds, Kassam noted, “is a power that most U.S. governors still retain, and a power the mayor of Washington, D.C. still has.” It is also “a measure a great many presidents and public figures have supported.”

The Wall Street Journal noted that “Abe Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, JFK, LBJ, Bill Clinton, the Bushes, John McCain, John Kerry, Al Gore, Pat Buchanan, Jeb Hensarling, Russ Feingold, Joe Lieberman, Judd Gregg, and not least both Paul Ryan… and Barack Obama” have all supported the power of the presidency to balance the spending power of Congress.

The Akron Law Review reported on President John F. Kennedy’s support for the same kind of hold Trump is alleged to have ordered on Ukraine aid:

President Kennedy’s major impoundment controversy centered about the RS-70, a long-range bomber. Congress appropriated nearly two times the amount that the President had requested, and Secretary of Defense McNamara refused to release the excess funds and emphasized that America’s missile deterrence capability combined with existing bomber strength was more than adequate.

Professor John Marini of the University of Nevada, Reno and the Claremont Institute wrote in his 1992 book The Politics of Budget Control: “In passing the Budget and Impoundment Control Act, Congress sought to sidestep the president. Thus as an unidentified high-ranking OMB official claimed that the Budget Act with Title X (the procedure that limited the president’s ability to impound funds) is ‘encouraging the executive branch agencies to develop their own direct power relationship with appropriations subcommittees in Congress, at the expense of presidential control’. This trend, he added, ‘could lead to the creation of bureaucratic fiefdoms, answering more to Congress than to the President. What we are talking about here is Congressional government–and chaos.”

Kassam concluded: “When the news media and GAO tells you Trump’s OMB ‘broke the law’, remind them they’re talking about a punitive law passed against Nixon, which fundamentally changed the intended role of the presidency (as proved by Jefferson’s use of impoundment) and birthed the ‘fiefdoms’, the administrative state, and brought uncontrollable pork-barrel spending to Congress.”

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