The publicly televised impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s alleged dirty dealings with Ukraine have captured the imaginations of lawmakers everywhere, but have done very little to clarify the actually wrongdoings committed by the highest authority in the world. There are two basic narratives that play out, depending on who you ask.
One says that Trump decided to withhold a Ukraine security aid package in order to extort or bribe a “favor” from Ukraine’s president. The story goes that Ukraine’s president was almost set to announce investigations into the Biden family on US news station CNN when lawmakers discovered what Trump was doing.
The second narrative says that Trump decided to withhold a Ukraine security aid package not because he wanted political favors, but because he was worried about corruption — which, as we all know by now, runs rampant in Ukraine.
But neither of these narratives actually matter.
That’s because the authority to allocate funds belongs to the legislative branch, and only the legislative branch. While Trump does indeed have the authority to circumvent these allocations, the conditions under which he may do so are very specific. According to the Impoundment Control Act (ICA), Trump may impound or defer monies appropriated by Congress for one of three reasons:
“(1) to provide for contingencies; (2) to achieve savings made possible by or through changes in requirements or greater efficiency of operations; or (3) as specifically provided by law. No officer or employee of the United States may defer any budget authority for any other purpose.”
You may realize upon reading the wording of the ICA that being afraid of corruption in another country is not one of those three reasons. The ICA was drafted specifically to reduce the chance that a president can usurp congressional authority after the Nixon administration came and went. In order to make a case for freezing such monies, Trump would also be required to notify Congress — something he obviously failed to do.
That’s what makes it illegal, and that’s why regardless of the narrative you believe — Democrats’ or Republicans’ — his withholding of the aid package is an impeachable offense.
Department of Defense official Laura Cooper’s office realized what Trump was trying to do. In her publicly televised testimony, she said, “Immediately deputies began to raise concerns about how this could be done in a legal fashion.”
Cooper sat down with the White House to help them sort things out, but the Trump administration ignored her advice and continued to withhold the money without telling Congress.
So not only did President Trump withhold the money, but he hid the fact that he was withholding the money. It wasn’t unfrozen until he was caught. Boom.