As the impeachment trial of President Donald John Trump opens in the U.S. Senate tomorrow, new information that amounts to an impeachment bombshell was revealed. The question now is whether it will be considered in that trial.
GAO: Withholding Ukraine Funds was Illegal
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a decision this morning finding that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) broke the law last year when it withheld US security aid to Ukraine that had been appropriated by Congress. President Trump requested that the aid be withheld, an issue at the heart of his impeachment.
The GAO said OMB violated the Impoundment Control Act, which limits the ability of the White House to withhold Congressionally appropriated funds.
OMB told GAO it "withheld the funds to ensure that they were not spent 'ln a manner that could conflict with the President's foreign policy," said GAO General Counsel Thomas Armstrong.
In its decision, GAO said, "Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law. OMB withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act. The withholding was not a programmatic delay. Therefore, we conclude that OMB violated the ICA."
While the violation does not carry criminal penalties, the GAO's decision boosts Democratic charges that Trump's withholding of $400 million in security aid to Ukraine was illegal. Impeachment hearing testimony showed that Trump wanted those funds withheld to get Ukraine to investigate his potential rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter.
The Parnas, Giuliani Fiasco
Yesterday, Lev Parnas, who helped Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani try to coerce Ukraine into investigating the Bidens using the withheld funds as a club, revealed to House of Representative investigators new documents exposing new details of the scheme that ultimately resulted in Trump's impeachment by the House.
In an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, Parnas flatly declared that Trump was informed "every step of the way" of his actions and Trump's claims that he didn't even know Parnas were lies.
"He lied," Parnas told Maddow.
Among the documents were handwritten notes by Parnas on Ritz-Carlton Hotel stationery that stated, “get Zalenksy [sic] to Annouce [sic] that the Biden case will be Investigated.” He was referring to Ukraine's new president, Volodymyr Zelensky.
The Parnas documents also showed that he, at Giuliani's behest, was working with then Ukrainian prosecutor Yuri Lutsenko who wanted to get rid of then U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Robert F. Hyde, a Republican congressional candidate from Connecticut and a Parnas associate and Trump sycophant, was shown to have sent menacing text messages suggesting he had Yovanovitch under surveillance.
“Wow. Can’t believe Trumo [sic] hasn’t fired this b----,” he wrote in an encrypted message to Parnas on March 23. “I’ll get right [on] that.” He claimed a “private security” team located near the embassy was monitoring the ambassador’s movements.
In other words, the U.S. government was conducting secret surveillance of its own ambassador using an outside contractor. So far, there has been no announcement by Attorney General William P. Barr of an investigation into those nefarious activities. However, the Ukrainian government announced today it was launching an investigation into Giuliani regarding that surveillance.
Meanwhile, some published reports speculate that there may have been a "hit" out on the ambassador.
Ultimately, Yovanovitch was removed from her post at Giuliani’s urging. Lutsenko later said publicly that he found no evidence of wrongdoing under Ukrainian law by Hunter or Joe Biden. The ambassador then testified during the House impeachment hearings regarding the circumstances that led to her ouster.
Will New Evidence be Considered?
“All of this new evidence confirms what we already know: the President and his associates pressured Ukrainian officials to announce investigations that would benefit the President politically,” said the chairs of the House Intelligence, Oversight, Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees in a joint statement. “There cannot be a full and fair trial in the Senate without the documents that President Trump is refusing to provide to Congress.”
But will this new evidence be admitted as the Senate trial proceeds? Will Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) allow additional witnesses like former National Security Advisor John Bolton? Or will McConnell continue his "See no evil, hear no evil" approach, conduct a sham trial, and let Trump off the hook?
Today, as the articles of impeachment were signed and transmitted to the Senate, some network commentators said maybe, just maybe, senators -- including Republicans -- would understand the historic significance of their actions and demand to hear all of the evidence, including that which has been revealed since the House passed its articles of impeachment.
That would be expected in a country where the process really works, where senators come together and solemnly fulfill their sworn duty to defend the Constitution and the American people against all enemies, foreign and domestic. It is what we, as citizens, have a right to expect.
But that, no doubt, is too much to ask in this era when so many Republican senators are more afraid of Donald John Trump than they are of being recorded on the wrong side of history.