The government’s watchdog, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), issued a legal decision Thursday, declaring President Trump’s decision to withhold aid to Ukraine illegal. According to the GAO, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) told the agency “that it withheld the funds to ensure that they were not spent ‘in a manner that could conflict with the President’s foreign policy.’”
As a result, the GAO concluded that “the law does not permit OMB to withhold funds for policy reasons.”
According to the law, the president is not allowed 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 (ICA).”
“Therefore,” the GAO writes, “we conclude that OMB violated the ICA.”
Speaking to reporters Thursday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said “the OMB, the White House, the administration broke – I'm saying this – broke the law.”
“This reinforces, again, the need for documents and eyewitnesses in the Senate,” she continued, calling the president’s actions “a tangled web to deceive.”
So what does this mean?
Violation of the ICA is a civil offense in the penal code, not a criminal one. Civil offenses typically result in fines, as opposed to severe punishments that we’re used to seeing when someone commits a criminal offense.
But it’s unclear if the GAO’s ruling will have a measurable impact on the impeachment proceedings, which officially kicked off Thursday. While the GAO provides information to Congress, enforcement falls to either the Justice Department or Congress.
The impeachment process
On Jan. 15 Pelosi’s seven “impeachment managers” delivered the articles of impeachment to the Senate. The seven will act as prosecutors during the Senate’s impeachment trial and include Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Rep. Val Demings (D-FL).
In the Senate, Senate President pro tempore Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is set to swear in Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside over the proceedings. He will swear in the 100 senators who will act as jurors during the impeachment trial.
The Senate then summons the president, who can take his time to respond.
But most agree that today’s proceedings are largely ceremonial procedures. The Senate is expected to fully kick off the impeachment hearings on Jan. 21, after the holiday weekend.
Kristin Myers is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.