WASHINGTON (CN) – Nearly two months after a Democratic-led House committee initiated an investigation into the White House Office of Management and Budget’s hold-up of security assistance to Ukraine, the panel reported the documents they received show a pattern of abuse in the apportionment process.
“OMB took the seemingly unprecedented step of stripping career officials of their normal role in the apportionment process and instead vesting a political appointee with that authority,” a summary provided Tuesday by the House Budget Committee found. “This is a troubling deviation from long-standing procedures.”
On Sept. 25, House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., expressed concerns that the White House’s budgeting office abused its authority by engaging in unlawful impoundments, the term for the executive branch intruding upon Congress’s power of the purse.
The chair requested documents describing the agency’s role in the withholding nearly $400 million in military assistance funding needed by Ukraine in its ongoing war against Russian aggression. The hold-up of the aid is central to House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
Though the House committee reported that OMB failed to meet its deadlines and has not provided most of the documents, those that were disclosed troubled the chairman.
“OMB’s actions may have hindered agencies’ ability to prudently obligate funds by the end of the fiscal year in violation of the Impoundment Control Act of 1974 (ICA), possibly creating backdoor rescissions,” the committee’s summary states.
The committee’s timeline corroborates prior reporting that OMB notified an interagency working group about a plan to withhold Ukraine security assistance on July 18, roughly a week before Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. That working group included the State Department and the Department of Defense.
During that well-publicized call, Zelensky discussed Ukraine’s need for Javelin missiles, and Trump responded by telling him: “I would like you to do us a favor, though.”
At 6:44 p.m. that evening after the phone call, a career OMB official signed the first apportionment withholding $250 million in Department of Defense funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative until Aug. 5, according to the Budget Committee’s summary. Those funds would not be made available to the Pentagon until Sept. 12.
On Aug. 3, OMB’s political appointee Michael Duffey withheld aid from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, including $26.5 million in security assistance.
“Although the committees only received a partial production of the requested materials, OMB’s responses and documentation to date confirm that the apportionment process has been misused to withhold Congressionally enacted appropriations,” the summary states. “Increased transparency and accountability for the apportionment process would serve both Congress and the public.”
“As the committees consider legislative proposals and reforms to rein in OMB’s abuse of its apportionment responsibilities (especially in the context of the Impoundment Control Act of 1974 and the annual appropriations acts), these findings – and the pending document requests – are key,” it concludes. (Parentheses in original.)
As House Democrats continue to complain about OMB’s opacity, New York Times reporters went to federal court in Washington on Tuesday against the agency hoping to uncover the emails of the political appointee who signed off on the aid freeze.
Suing under the Freedom of Information Act, the outlet wants all emails between Duffey and Robert Blair, a Trump assistant who was on the call, dating back to May 1. Both men defied subpoenas to testify behind closed doors to Congress.
A former associate director for OMB’s national security programs, Blair transitioned to the Oval Office with acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney in January. The Times claims that OMB stonewalled its request for Duffey and Blair’s communications for two months.