The White House Office of Management and Budget, which has come under scrutiny for its role in withholding military aid to Ukraine, has offered a defense of its decision to freeze the funds in a new legal memo penned by the agency’s general counsel, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
Mark Paoletta said in the memo that OMB had temporarily delayed the funds as part of a routine and lawful process to ensure the spending was in line with U.S. policy and that it was not a politically motivated move aimed at stymying congressional spending decisions.
“For decades, OMB has routinely used its apportionment authority to prevent funds from being used,” Paoletta wrote, according to the Post. “Often, in managing appropriations, OMB must briefly pause an agency’s legal ability to spend those funds for a number of reasons, including to ensure that the funds are being spent efficiently, that they are being spent in accordance with statutory directives, or to assess how or whether funds should be used for a particular activity.”
The memo, which was also obtained by the Washington Examiner, was reportedly written in response to a request from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which had sought answers as to why the aid had been withheld.
Paoletta’s memo said OMB had delayed the aid package “pending a policy decision” from the Trump administration.
The agency took “appropriate action,” he asserted, “to ensure that funds were not obligated prematurely in a manner that could conflict with the President’s foreign policy,” the Examiner reported.
OMB’s decision to withhold the aid package to Ukraine has been a central part of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.
The agency has been accused by House Democrats of a “pattern of abuse” in delaying the aid.
Last month, an internal White House review reportedly uncovered a slew of email exchanges between Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, and OMB officials ― sent after the funds to Ukraine were already frozen ― in which Mulvaney sought to find out whether there was legal justification for withholding the aid.
Also last month, Mark Sandy, a career OMB employee, testified to the House Intelligence Committee that two officials at the agency resigned after expressing concerns over the aid freeze. OMB has said the officials left for other reasons.
House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled two articles of impeachment against Trump, charging him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress over his dealings with Ukraine.
According to the Post, OMB’s memo this week does not attempt to defend Trump from allegations that he abused power by withholding aid to Ukraine or obstructed justice in his efforts to cover his tracks.